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Chapter 17


Why is this chapter titled Gender? Why not Sex? The

terms sex and gender are closely intertwined in
science. Sex often connotes sexuality, and gender has come
to refer to the cross-disciplinary field of study devoted to
understanding the origins and consequences of being
male or female. This chapter reviews this field of study.
Specifically, it considers the joint influence of biological
and sociocultural factors on the behavior of women and
men. It provides a broad biosocial framework to organize
the state of the evidence on the social thoughts, feelings,
and behaviors of and about women and men.
Within psychology, the terms gender and sex are often
understood to represent distinct sets of causes for the behavior
of women and men. Feminist researchers separated sex from
gender during the 1970s and 1980s to distinguish between
female and male biology and the meanings that societies and
individuals ascribe to male and female categories (e.g., Unger,
1979). In so doing, they were casting off the assumption
that observable differences between the sexes arise because of
inborn, biological factors that are impervious to social input.
In an ironic twist, gender as a scientific term was apparently
used first in the medical literature to describe the psychology
accompanying certain biological conditions (Haig, 2004).
Gender referred to the masculine or feminine self-concepts
of individuals whose physical anomalies did not fit usual
genital designation as male or female (Money, Hampson, &
Hampson, 1955). Nonetheless, gender became the standard
term for cultural distinctions between men and women and
sex the standard term for biological distinctions (American
Psychological Association, 2001). Whereas in the 1960s
social science publications rarely mentioned gender, by the
turn of this century they used it more than twice as often as
sex (Haig, 2004).

Just as psychologists seemed to be reaching agreement

that gender is to sociocultural causes as sex is to biological
ones, empirical findings muddied any such neat distinction.
By the 1990s, it was clear that the biology and psychology
of masculinity and femininity could not be boxed into separate theories. Biological sex and the social environment are
now understood to work together in influencing the attributes and behavior of women and men. If most differences
between males and females are joint products of biology
and society, then psychologists face a conundrum: Should
the modifier of differences and similarities between women
and men be gender or sex? What about the modifiers
for roles, stereotypes, and identitiessex or gender?
The underlying questions about causes cannot be answered
through mere labeling. Establishing the contributions of
biological and sociocultural causation is the end product
of research, not its starting point.
This dilemma can be resolved by abandoning the nowtraditional biology versus culture meaning of sex versus
gender in favor of definitions that recognize the intertwining of nature and nurture. Sex is defined in this chapter
by the common-language meaning of male and female
as categories (e.g., into which humans and most other
living things are divided on the basis of their reproductive functions; Oxford English Dictionary, 2009). These
two groups are based on a biological reality of differing
chromosomes and associated hormonal and reproductive
differences. Yet this classification in daily life is a social
act based on personal assessments or observers judgments
of maleness or femaleness (Kessler & McKenna, 1978).
Therefore, visible cues of sex can sometimes contradict
chromosomes. And the classification has to be expanded
beyond two categories to include individuals who are

This chapter was prepared while Wendy Wood was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The authors would like to thank
Amanda Diekman, Paul Eastwick, Elizabeth Garrett, Peter Glick, Melissa Hines, Robert A. Josephs, Anne Koenig, N. Pontus Leander,
Laurie Rudman, Janet Spence, and Carmen Tanner for their thoughtful comments on an earlier draft of the chapter.


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intersexed and thus possess both male and female biological characteristics or are transsexual and have undertaken
surgery or hormone therapy to change their biological
sex (Fausto-Sterling, 1993). Nonetheless, the term sex
designates female and male categories that fit the great
majority of humans, and, in our usage, the terms sex differences and sex similarities do not imply particular types of
underlying causes.
The term gender refers to the meanings that individuals
and societies ascribe to males and femalesmeanings
that rest on a biology in which most humans possess the
standard XX or XY chromosomes. As this chapter explains,
this biological difference emerges in human societies as a
division of labor between men and women, which in turn
drives the meanings that cultures impute to male and female
and the meanings that individuals impute to themselves.
Terms such as gender role and gender identity refer to cultural
meanings in this sense. Sex and gender thus are separated
into convenient categories that reflect the natural language
definition of these words and simultaneously acknowledge
the intertwining of nature and nurture. With this distinction,
research findings and not terminologies do the heavy lifting
of identifying the causes of sex and gender.
In brief, the present chapter reviews the research evidence on the biological and sociocultural causes of the
thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of and about men and
women. Our scope is necessarily broad and considers
causes at multiple levels, including individual-level causes
of hormones and personal identities, societal-level causes in
stereotypical beliefs about the sexes, and evolutionary
pressures that influence mens and womens behavior.
Building on these various causes, the chapter considers the
evidence for sex differences in aggression and prosocial
behavior. It concludes with a discussion of how biosocial
processes account for change and stability in mens and
womens roles in society. The next sections explain our
approach, first by outlining why it is necessary to consider
both biological and social influences and then by organizing these various causes into a coherent theory.


The biological and social causes of sex differences are
closely interlinked in their effects. This presents a Gordian
knot of complexity, with the threads of the knot representing
the intertwined biological and sociocultural influences.
To disentangle these causes, researchers do not have the
mythical power of Alexander the Great who with a single
cut from his sword sliced the Gordian knot in two. Yet,
some psychologists do continue to apply simple, unitary

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explanations that they hope will allow them to master the

complexities of sex and gender. Some such accounts focus
exclusively on hormones and other biological processes,
and they fail to acknowledge how these processes depend
on sociocultural factors. Others focus exclusively on sociocultural factors such as the social construction of gender
and do not recognize how these are grounded in biology.
However, contemporary science has revealed the value of
a different approachone that recognizes the inherent dependence between biological and sociocultural causes in producing and erasing differences between women and men.
In striking evidence of this dependence, researchers
who pursue causal threads associated with the biological
factors of sex-related genes and hormones sometimes have
found themselves revealing the influences of socialization
and culture. This interdependence reflects that the effects
of male and female biology are moderated by aspects of the
social environment. Genes function not like encapsulated
units of heredity but instead like response systems that
are highly contingent on environmental input (Lickliter &
Honeycutt, 2003). Illustrating this contingency, the onset
of menarche in girls is now understood to depend on
the psychosocial environment (Ellis, 2004). Girls begin
menstruating as early as around 12 years in some urban
postindustrial societies and as late as 18 years or more
in rural highland Papua New Guinea or high altitude
Nepali groups. Age of onset is regulated biologically by
the maturation of the adrenal glands and the hypothalamic
pituitarygonadal axis. The rate of this maturation is
increased by psychosocial stressors such as father absence,
emotionally distant motherdaughter relationships, depression, and exposure to family conflicts. As Ellis (2004,
p. 948) indicated, until recently, the notion that social
experiences influence something as biological and presumably genetic as pubertal timing was not taken seriously by
the research community.
Is the reverse also truethat the influence of sociocultural factors depends on biology? If so, in the Gordian knot
of causal influences, research that pulls a thread associated with the social determinants of sex differences would
reveal the effects of genes and hormones. We are not referring to the obvious idea that men and women are living
beings whose survival and reproduction is undergirded by
biological processes. Instead, in its more profound manifestation, the sociocultural meaning of gender is grounded
partly in biological differences between the sexes. As an
illustration, boys preferences for masculine, wheeled toys
that afford motion can be traced to more than the socialization of toy preferences by parents, peers, and the media.
Masculine toy preferences also appear to have a hormonal
basis in prenatal androgen exposure. Girls with congenital
adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), a disorder involving exposure

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Gender Roles

to high levels of prenatal androgen, show these masculine toy preferences along with other boyish attributes
elevated activity levels and greater rough-and-tumble play
(Hines, 2009). Also suggesting that toy preferences have
a hormonal basis, male juvenile vervet and rhesus monkeys, much like young boys, showed a stronger preference for wheeled toys than did their female counterparts
(Alexander & Hines, 2002; Hassett, Siebert, & Wallen,
2008). The socialization of children elaborates this initial hormonal effect by fostering different toy choices and
play activities in girls and boys within societies (Lytton &
Romney, 1991).
The interwoven influences of biology and culture in
enhancing and reducing sex differences might seem to overwhelm personality and social psychological approaches
by adding a laundry list of genetic and hormonal variables
to investigations of female and male behavior. Worse yet,
studying these intertwined influences might seem to place
social and personality psychologists at risk for relocating
their labs in the biology building on campus. Fortunately,
theorizing about the various causes has kept pace with the
emerging complexity of empirical findings. In particular,
biosocial theories, which consider the interface between biological and sociocultural influences, articulate a clear role
for social and personality psychology variables in scientific
models about sex differences in behavior, as well as in peoples beliefs about men and women.


From the biosocial perspective of this chapter, sex and
gender constructs in psychology are part of a nomological
net, or series of connected theoretical concepts and
observable properties, within which the constructs have a
particular meaning (Cronbach & Meehl, 1955). By looking
upward in the net toward the distal, fundamental causes
of male and female behavior, we can answer the kind of
big picture questions about women and men that a Martian
might puzzle over when landing on earth for the first time
and observing any human society. In all known societies,
men and boys to some extent specialize in activities different from those favored by women and girls. An extraterrestrial visitor thus is likely to wonder why the sexes fill
different social roles and thereby engage in a division of
labor. Answering this question at a societal level of analysis illuminates the biosocial interaction writ large. That is,
the division of labor arises from the ways in which cultural
and ecological forces in a society interact with humans
biology in terms of female and male physical attributes and
reproductive activities (Wood & Eagly, 2002). Because

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women bear and nurse children and men possess greater

size, speed, and strength, especially in the upper body,
certain activities in a society are more efficiently accomplished by one sex than the other. In short, the division of
labor arises because it can be easier for one sex to perform
certain tasks of daily life.
By looking downward in the nomological net toward
the more proximal causes of individuals behavior, we can
identify the immediate determinants of differences between
male and female behavior, as well as differences within each
sex. Social and personality psychologists typically ask
questions about proximal causes, such as why women generally are more nurturant than men toward close others and
why individual women vary in their propensity to nurture.
As this chapter explains, the proximal causes of sex differences in individual behavior are framed by gender roles, or
the shared beliefs that apply to individuals on the basis of
their socially identified sex (Eagly, 1987; Eagly, Wood, &
Johannesen-Schmidt, 2004).
Gender roles, as well as specific social roles such as
daughter, boss, and friend, influence the behavior of individual women and men through more immediate causes.
We consider a trio of proximal causes of sex differences and
similarities that reflect the biosocial interaction close-up:
Roles influence behavior through chemical signals of hormonal changes in interaction with personal gender identity
and others stereotypical expectations. The second and
third of these causes, which are the sociocultural aspects
of this biosocial model, are reminiscent of Deaux and
Major s (1987) argument that gender is enacted in dyadic
interactions as a function of gendered beliefs about the self,
others expectations, and contextual influences that make
gender more or less salient (see also Deaux & LaFrance,
1998). The next sections of the chapter first outline the
nature and functioning of gender roles and then address
the immediate biosocial mechanisms by which these
beliefs about women and men influence behavior.

Gender role beliefs arise from the specific social roles
occupied by women and menthat is, from the division
of labor in society. Most social behavior is embedded in
the performance of specific roles, and gender roles serve
as a backdrop that pervades the performance of such specific roles. Because in all cultures women and men tend
to specialize in different behaviors, people have different
beliefs about what each sex can and should do. These beliefs
constitute socially shared stereotypes within a society. In
essence, gender roles are reflected in a societys stereotypes about men and women. Thus, women may be viewed

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as kind and compassionate and men as bold and fearless.

Gender stereotypes might also include specific skills, such
as women having the ability to weave baskets and men to
tend crops, or vice versa (Murdock & Provost, 1973).
Our definition of gender roles derives from the broader
concept of social role, which refers to the shared beliefs
that apply to people who occupy a certain social position
or are members of a particular social category (e.g., Biddle,
1979). For gender roles, these social categories are male
and female. In the mind of individuals, roles are schemas,
or abstract knowledge structures, pertaining to a group of
people. When role schemas are shared among members
of a society, they constitute structures at the societal level, as
well as the individual level. Roles are thus symbolic
aspects of social structure, which consists of persisting and
bounded patterns of behavior and social interaction (e.g.,
House, 1995).
Gender roles, like roles based on group memberships
such as age, social class, and race, apply to many aspects of
daily life. In their Handbook of Social Psychology chapter
on gender, Deaux and LaFrance (1998) likened this aspect
of gender to aira pervasive, ever-present part of peoples
experience. In contrast, more specific roles based on factors such as family relationships (e.g., father or daughter)
and occupations (e.g., teacher or police officer) are relevant mainly to behavior in a particular social context. For
example, occupational roles are pertinent mostly at work.
Given their general applicability across settings, gender
roles influence behavior simultaneously with specific roles
and roles based on other group memberships (e.g., racial
groups). These intersections of gender roles with other
roles lend complexity to female and male behavior.
Gender roles specify what men and women usually do
and what they should dothat is, roles are descriptive and
prescriptive (or injunctive; Cialdini & Trost, 1998; Prislin &
Wood, 2005). The descriptive aspect of gender roles indicates what is typical for each sex. People rely on this
descriptive information when they are concerned about
what is normal for their sex. Especially if a situation is
ambiguous or confusing, people tend to enact sex-typical
behaviors. The prescriptive aspect of gender roles describes
what is desirable and admirable for each sex. People rely
on this prescriptive information when they are motivated
to gain social approval or to bolster their own esteem.
Content of Gender Roles
What are the gender role beliefs that people commonly
hold about women and men? Research on gender stereotypes reveals this content (see review by Kite, Deaux, &
Haines, 2007). Most peoples beliefs about men and women
can be summarized in two dimensions, which are most

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often labeled agency, or self-assertion, and communion, or

connection with others (Bakan, 1966). These basic dimensions, in various forms, underlie peoples beliefs about
different social groups (Fiske, Cuddy, Glick, & Xu,
2002; Judd, James-Hawkins, Yzerbyt, & Kashima, 2005).
Men, more than women, are thought to be agenticthat
is, masterful, assertive, competitive, and dominant (e.g.,
Newport, 2001; Spence & Buckner, 2000). Women, more than
men, are thought to be communalthat is, friendly, unselfish, concerned with others, and emotionally expressive. The
expressiveness accorded to women extends to a range of emotions, including sadness, embarrassment, fear, distress, sympathy, love, and happiness, but not to anger and pride, which
are ascribed more to men than to women (Alexander &
Wood, 2000; Plant, Hyde, Keltner, & Devine, 2000).
Agency and communion were the predominant themes
that emerged in the foundational studies of gender stereotypes. When respondents in such research listed the ways
in which men and women differ, a high proportion of the
most consensual attributes were either agentic or communal
(Broverman, Vogel, Broverman, Clarkson, & Rosenkrantz,
1972). When respondents in another study free associated
to the terms masculine and feminine, the great majority of
these associations were agentic or communal traits (Deaux &
Lewis, 1983). These stereotypes emerge with implicit
measures, such as the Implicit Association Test, as well as
with traditional explicit measures based on rating scales
(Rudman, Greenwald, & McGhee, 2001). Male agency
and female communion also appear to be pancultural,
albeit with some variation across cultures (Best & Thomas,
2004; Williams & Best, 1990).
Agency and communion are not the whole story on gender stereotypes. People also take into account contrasting
features of male and female bodies. They regard men as
muscular, strong, and tall and women as pretty, sexy, and
petite (Cejka & Eagly, 1999; Deaux & Lewis, 1984). With
respect to the mind, intellectual ability is regarded as having
subtly different contours in women and men, with women
being more creative and verbally skilled and men more
analytical and quantitatively skilled (Cejka & Eagly, 1999;
Swim, 1994). Sheer intelligence is ascribed somewhat
more to women than men in contemporary U.S. representative surveys (Newport, 2001; Pew Research Center,
2008), as opposed to the earlier tendency to ascribe greater
intelligence to men (e.g., Fernberger, 1948).
People readily take other group memberships and social
roles into account along with gender roles. The meaning
of male and female social categories differs depending on group membership such as nationality (Eagly &
Kite, 1987), age (Kite, Deaux, & Miele, 1991), race, and
ethnicity (Timberlake & Estes, 2007). To give one illustration, sexual orientation makes a difference: Homosexual

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Gender Roles

individuals are regarded as similar to opposite-sex

heterosexualsthat is, gay men as more feminine and lesbian women as more masculinethan typical members of
their sex group (Kite & Deaux, 1987). Specific social roles
also moderate gender roles. For example, acknowledging
womens domestic role, perceivers accord more agency
to women than men in some domestic contexts (MendozaDenton, Park, & OConnor, 2008). In addition, portraying
women and men in the same specific social role (e.g., occupation) appears to reduce the impact of gender stereotypes
(Eagly & Steffen, 1984; Eagly & Wood, 1982).
Also reflecting that gender roles coexist with other
social roles, the general categories of men and women
are composed of subtypes. Vonk and Ashmore (2003)
identified more than 200 masculine and feminine subtypes that varied in their young versus old and traditional
versus modern meaning. Gender subtypes represent men
and women in, for example, occupations such as businessman and career woman and interpersonal roles such
as family man and lover (Carpenter & Trentham, 1998;
Eckes, 2002). New subtypes continually emerge, such
as Joe six-pack and hockey mom to represent the intersections of gender with political interest groups in the 2008
U.S. presidential election campaign.
Children gradually gain sophistication in their thinking
about the sexes. Young children do not stereotype at the
abstract level of the agentic and communal personality
traits that dominate adults gender stereotypes (see Miller,
Trautner, & Ruble, 2006, for a review). Instead, children
as young as 3 years associate concrete objects and activities with each sexfor example, dolls, hairbrushes, and
sewing with females and baseball bats, cars, and playing
basketball with males. Also, young children link qualities
such as pink and softness with females and blue and roughness with males. In middle childhood, the core agency and
communion stereotypes start to emerge. With maturity,
perceivers acquire a rich set of social psychological concepts for thinking about men and women.
Roots of Gender Roles in the Division of Labor
The gender role beliefs, or stereotypes shared within a
society, are not arbitrary or random. Instead, they are
firmly rooted in a societys division of labor whereby people observe men and women engaged in different types of
activities (Eagly, Wood, & Diekman, 2000). From these
observations, people develop beliefs about womens and
mens attributes, especially their personality traits. How do
perceivers make their way from observations of concrete
behaviors to abstract ideas about traits?
As a first step, peoples behaviors are assumed to
reflect their intrinsic characteristics. This cognitive process

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of inferring traits from observed behavior is known as

correspondent inference or correspondence bias (Gilbert,
1998). For example, on observing an act of kindness, perceivers automatically identify the behavior in trait terms
and characterize the actor by the trait that is impliedas
a nice, caring person. By making this inference, people
commit the fundamental attribution error by assuming
that people are what they do. This process is widespread
(Gawronski, 2003; Ross, Amabile, & Steinmetz, 1977) and
largely spontaneous (Uleman, Saribay, & Gonzalez, 2008).
From observations of individuals, perceivers then generalize to the traits of entire groups of peoplethat is, to
group stereotypes. Illustrating how thinking proceeds from
individuals to groups, Ridgeway and Erickson (2000)
created differential status between two individuals by
having one person (an experimental confederate) act in a
deferential or a superior way to the other person (the participant). These two people had been arbitrarily assigned
to different nominal groups, A or B. The status difference
established between these two individuals then was generalized, by the research participants and by observers, to
other members of A and B groups, as if it were a characteristic of the groups (see also Ridgeway, 2006b). Perceivers
appear to be especially adept at jumping from observations
of even a single man or woman to generalizations about
qualities typical of each sex (Prentice & Miller, 2006).
If gender stereotypes are largely data driven, what
are the observations that feed them? Because the division between female domestic labor and male wage labor
remains partially intact (Bianchi, Robinson, & Milkie,
2006), people have many opportunities to observe women
and men engaging in different behaviors. They tend to
see women engaged in supportive, nurturing behaviors in
their domestic role and in occupations (e.g., teacher and
nurse) that emphasize communal characteristics (Cejka &
Eagly, 1999; England, Budig, & Folbre, 2002). Also, people tend to see men in family roles of provider and head
of household, as well as in certain occupations that foster
assertive, task-oriented behaviors (Cejka & Eagly, 1999).
Additionally important are indirect observations provided
by media portrayals and cultural lore. Given repeated
observations of men and women engaging in different
types of behaviors, gender roles effortlessly emerge.
Do these observations of male and female roles boil
down to sex differences in observed social status, as
some social psychologists have argued (e.g., Conway,
Pizzamiglio, & Mount, 1996; Ridgeway & Bourg, 2004)?
People often observe men in higher-status roles and women
in lower-status onesfor example, male executives interacting with female secretaries and clerks. Accordingly,
perceivers infer that men have the correspondent attributes of competitiveness and agency and women have the

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attributes of compliance and supportiveness (Wood &

Karten, 1986). However, status is more strongly related to
agency than to communion (e.g., Conway et al., 1996) and
thus is more suited to explaining stereotypes of men.
The perception that women are communal can be
traced largely to their cooperative interdependence with
other groups (e.g., men, children, and the elderly; Fiske
et al., 2002). These helpful and supportive social relationships underlie the women are wonderful effect, whereby
the female stereotype is often more favorable than the
male stereotype (Eagly & Mladinic, 1994; Rudman &
Goodwin, 2004).
Womens greater cooperative interdependence and mens
greater status also have a dark side (Spence, Helmreich, &
Holohan, 1979). Social perceivers regard women as more
vulnerable than men to a communal focus on others that
results in neglect of oneself (e.g., inability to say no and
excessive concern with others problems). They also
regard men as more vulnerable than women to an agentic
self-focus that results in neglect of others (e.g., arrogant,
greedy, and cynical; Helgeson & Fritz, 1999). Thus, gender s troubled waters consist of agency not blended with
some communion and communion not blended with some
Accuracy of Gender Stereotypes
Are gender stereotypes accurate? Yes and no. To the extent
that stereotypes are grounded in reality, they inevitably
possess a kernel of truth. Peoples frequent observations of
male and female behavior provide myriad opportunities to
correct biased beliefs (Fiedler & Walther, 2004). Moreover,
categorizing people as female and male would not be useful unless the meanings associated with the categories were
at least broadly accurate. But saying yes, stereotypes are
accurate on average, could mean no for any specific
instance. An intelligent answer separates the accuracy of
beliefs about a category from those about individual category members (Ryan, 2002). Beliefs about groups may be
quite accurate based on group averages (e.g., men like to
shop for tools) but inaccurate when applied to individuals
within the groups (e.g., Steve is a man, so he will enjoy
tool shopping). For people not typical of their sex, stereotypical judgments are necessarily inaccurate.
Providing fairly good evidence of accuracy, research has
related gender stereotypes to the sex differences and similarities established in psychological research. Participants
beliefs about the direction and magnitude of sex differences
are moderately correlated with the findings of meta-analyses
of studies that compared the sexes on a range of personality traits, abilities, and social behaviors (Briton & Hall,
1995; Hall & Carter, 1999a; Swim, 1994). For example,

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people believe that women smile more than men, and

research has found this to be a sex difference (LaFrance,
Hecht, & Paluck, 2003). Also suggesting accuracy, gender
stereotypical beliefs were correlated with mens and
womens experiences of the emotions of anger, fear, love,
joy, and sadness (Grossman & Wood, 1993). In addition,
people can successfully estimate the social attitudes held
by men and women on various topics (Diekman, Eagly, &
Kulesa, 2002). Furthermore, Hall and Carter (1999a) found
that people with more accurate gender stereotypes were
also more interpersonally sensitive and believed more in the
accuracy of their social perceptions.
Despite this evidence of a substantial kernel of truth,
cognitive processes can exaggerate peoples judgments of
malefemale differences. Categorizing people by sex is
one such process. When individuals are categorized into
groups, they might seem more similar to other group members than they actually are, as well as more different from
members of other groups (e.g., Tajfel, 1981; Wilder, 1984).
Sex provides the strongest basis of categorizing people,
even when compared with race, age, and occupation
(Fiske, Haslam, & Fiske, 1991; Stangor, Lynch, Duan, &
Glass, 1992; but see Quinn & Macrae, 2005).
Stereotypes also slant the way in which people encode
instances of behavior. By assimilating women and men to
gender stereotypes, perceivers may not judge them accurately (von Hippel, Sekaquaptewa, & Vargas, 1995). In
illustration, research participants informed about another
persons agentic acts of leadership (e.g., when speaking,
motivates employees) were more likely to activate in
memory the implied agentic traits (e.g., charismatic) when
the other person was male (Scott & Brown, 2006). Thus,
given the same act of agency, observers are more likely to
accord men than women the correspondent trait because
agency is regarded typical of men. As a result of such biased
processes, an assertive, decisive woman might not be considered for leadership positions (Eagly & Carli, 2007).
As another source of inaccuracy, differences are overestimated when men and women are viewed as opposites
along a masculinefeminine bipolar dimension (Green,
Ashmore, & Manzi, 2005; Krueger, Hasman, Acevedo, &
Villano, 2003) or as having opposing group interests
(Diekman et al., 2002). Nevertheless, empirical support for
the exaggeration of group-level sex differences is mixed,
with some studies showing overestimation (Allen, 1995;
Martin, 1987) and others showing underestimation (e.g.,
Cejka & Eagly, 1999; Swim, 1994; see discussion in section, Sex Differences in Psychological Research).
Popular media also reduce stereotype accuracy by exaggerating differences between the sexes, despite occasional
counterstereotypical portrayals (e.g., a female U.S. president
in the television series Commander in Chief). One such

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Gender Roles

bias is that men are depicted more often than women in

prime-time television commercials and more often in primary roles (Furnham & Mak, 1999; Ganahl, Prinsen, &
Netzley, 2003). Media also mirror the division of labor,
with prime-time television programming of situation comedy, drama, and reality offering 23% more men than women
in employment-related roles and 33% more women than
men in interpersonal roles involving family, romance, and
friends (Lauzen, Dozier, & Horan, 2008). These paycheckearning men and relationship-focused women fuel gender
stereotypes in a media-intensive society. Suggesting the
influence of media portrayals, frequent television viewing
is associated with more stereotypical beliefs about women
and men (Morgan & Shanahan, 1997).
Other stereotyping processes compromise accuracy by
minimizing peoples reports of sex differences. This effect
occurs when perceivers use shifting standards to judge
men and women. If people compare women with other
women and men with other men, then the sexes are judged
by different standards (Biernat, 2003, 2005). To illustrate,
consider athleticism, a set of skills in which men predominate so much that athletic competitions are typically segregated by sex. When people describe a woman and a man as
athletic, they usually mean that the woman is athletic for
a woman, just as the man is athletic for a man. Given typically lesser athletic prowess in women, observers would
judge a woman athlete by a different and lower standard
than a man. The result could be that a man and woman are
judged as equally athletic, for example, on a subjective
rating scale ranging from very athletic to not at all athletic. Yet, if observers judged this man and woman by the
same, or common, standard (e.g., how far can he or she
throw a ball?), the (accurate) stereotype of greater male athleticism would ordinarily dominate judgments (Biernat &
Vescio, 2002).
Stereotypes also are minimized when perceivers contrast individual mens and womens behavior with gender
stereotypes. For example, when confronted with unambiguously counterstereotypical behavior, perceivers may
try to explain the unusual behavior and end up concluding that the individuals possess especially strong attributes
corresponding to the behavior. Thus, perceivers observing
exceptional service from a female financial adviser or a
male wedding planner inferred that they must possess special competence at financial or wedding services (Matta &
Folkes, 2005).
In summary, gender stereotypes are subject to conflicting pressures: Peoples many opportunities to observe
males and females ensure overall group-level accuracy
despite the various sources of bias that can exaggerate or
minimize genuine differences between the sexes.

CH17.indd 635


Controlling Detrimental Effects of Gender Roles

on Judgments of Individuals
The accuracy of gender stereotypes at the group level
does not make stereotypes benign influences in daily life.
Instead, stereotypes constrain behavior and foster sanctions for deviation (see the later section Influence of Social
Expectations). Stereotypes also help to retain traditional
patterns of behavior: Gender stereotypes derive from
observing women and men enacting a division of labor and
in turn hold people into the very roles that make up the
division of labor.
Controversy surrounds the question of whether people
can inhibit stereotypes about social groups. Consistent
with the inevitability of stereotyping are numerous experiments suggesting that stereotype activation does not
require intentional control or conscious awareness. For
example, priming of gender stereotypical words (e.g.,
jobs such as nurse or doctor) versus nonstereotypical
words led participants to classify quickly gender-matched
pronouns (e.g., he or she) into male and female
categories (e.g., Banaji & Hardin, 1996). Similarly, implicit
priming induced by having participants unscramble
sentences with male or female stereotypical (vs. nonstereotypical) content produced more stereotypical ratings of
a target person of the sex implied by the priming (Banaji,
Hardin, & Rothman, 1993). Such phenomena suggest
that perceivers have acquired a network of associations
about men and women that are ordinarily activated by relevant concepts (Bargh, 1999; Fiske, 1998).
Questioning the inevitability of stereotyping are experiments demonstrating that mere exposure to sex-related
cues does not necessarily bring gender stereotypes to
mind, at least not in their generic form. For example,
after imagining a strong woman, such as a businesswoman in charge of others or a female athlete, perceivers
indicated less extreme gender stereotypes on the Implicit
Association Test (Blair, Ma, & Lenton, 2001). A host of
other factors can modulate the activation of gender stereotypes, including time pressure and other cognitive
constraints (Blair & Banaji, 1996), perceivers processing
goals (Macrae, Bodenhausen, Milne, Thorne, & Castelli,
1997; Moskowitz, Gollwitzer, Wasel, & Schaal, 1999), and
a social environment with women in leadership positions
(Dasgupta & Asgari, 2004). Such phenomena suggest that
gender stereotypes are fluid, contextually sensitive, and
potentially controllable.
Even when stereotypes have been activated, they are not
always used in judging others (Devine, 1989). Information
about individuals other qualities can restrain the application of stereotypes to some extent (Fiske, 1998). Thus, in
newly formed discussion groups, members perceived men

12/18/09 2:59:03 PM



as higher in agency than women except when given direct

information about the others relative aptitudes (Wood &
Karten, 1986). In addition, the application of stereotypes
depends on a complex of cognitive and motivational variables (Blair, 2002; Kunda & Spencer, 2003). For example,
perceivers can inhibit stereotyping when they have sufficient cognitive resources and motivation (e.g., Dasgupta &
Rivera, 2006; see Fazio & Olson, 2003). Their motivation to restrain prejudicial reactions can reflect internal,
personal desires to avoid sexism and external pressures
deriving from others reactions (Klonis, Plant, & Devine,
2005). Nonetheless, the motivation to correct for gender
stereotypes is not guaranteed. People feel less compunction when they are confronted with their own sexism,
compared with their other types of biases (e.g., Czopp &
Monteith, 2003).
In summary, perceptions of individuals are not always
at the mercy of gender stereotypes. Although social categories such as gender may be automatically activated outside
of awareness and without conscious intent, such activation does not always occur. Even when gender stereotypes
have been activated, perceivers can control their potential
effects on judgments, given sufficient motivation and cognitive resources. However, in the hurly-burly of daily life,
people often lack the motivation or resources to exert this
control (see Macrae & Quadflieg, this volume).
Potency of Gender Roles
Gender roles do not always influence judgments and
behavior, but they wield considerable power in various
circumstances. The strength of gender roles arises from
several sources: The shared beliefs that comprise these
roles seem consensual, they have an injunctive or prescriptive quality, and they appear to describe qualities that are
deeply embedded in human nature.
Stereotypical beliefs that are supported by social consensus seem validafter all, others endorse them, and this
consensus establishes pressures to comply (Crandall &
Stangor, 2005). In research manipulating the consensus behind racial stereotypes, college students with the
impression that their anti-Black beliefs were shared by
other students sat further from an African American
(Sechrist & Stangor, 2001). Similarly, the widespread consensus about female communion and male agency fuels the
effects of these stereotypes on judgments and behavior.
Gender roles acquire additional power from their prescriptiveness. Gender stereotypical ways of behaving seem
generally desirable for that sex (Prentice & Carranza, 2002;
Spence & Helmreich, 1978). For example, if women, far
more than men, care for infants and young children, it
is reasonable that people prefer that women be kind and

CH17.indd 636

nurturing. In general, the more attributes actually differ

between women and men, the more desirable they seem
to be for one sex as opposed to the other (Hall & Carter,
1999b). This prescriptiveness makes sense, given that gender roles capture the qualities that facilitate sex-typical
activities in society.
As an additional contribution to the power of stereotypes about women and men, sex strikes people as a
natural-kind category, associated with a deep, inherent
quality that makes the attributes linked with it seem relatively unalterable. For many social perceivers, women
possess an essential nature that is different from that of
men. Of 40 social categories, malefemale categories were
judged as the most natural, necessary, immutable, discrete, and stable (Haslam, Rothschild, & Ernst, 2000). As
a consequence, people often regard feminine or masculine
attributes and behaviors as inherent, stable properties of
the sexes (Prentice & Miller, 2006).
In the next sections of this chapter, we consider
various mechanisms through which gender roles and specific social roles are enacted to produce the behavior of
men and women. For social and personality psychologists,
this is where the rubber meets the roadwhere theories
about psychological and biological processes are tested as
predictors of behavior. However, within the nomological
network of gender constructs, equally important are the
distal biosocial causes of gender roles that we consider
toward the end of the chapter.


Proximal Influences
In daily life, people carry out gender roles as they enact
specific social roles such as athlete, employee, and parent. Performing social roles is enabled by biological and
psychological mechanisms that interact in various ways.
Biological processes include hormones acting as chemical signals and psychological mechanisms include gender
identities and others expectations. These factors work in
tandem to promote role performance.
To understand how hormonal and psychological factors
work together to guide behavior, consider the aggressive,
competitive behaviors required to win athletic contests.
Performance of these behaviors is promoted by increases
in the steroid hormone, testosterone, which is an androgen secreted in men by the testes and in women to a lesser
extent by the adrenal gland and ovaries. Athletic competition also is promoted by a masculine, agentic identity, as
athletes regulate their behavior in line with this gendered
self-view. Athletic performance also is likely to be highly

12/18/09 2:59:04 PM

Roles Guide Behavior 637

responsive to the agentic expectations of fans, other players,

and coaches. In short, fluctuations in testosterone guide
responses when people are engaged in roles involving
dominance and competition, as defined by their identities
and by others expectations. Thus, the biosocial interaction
reflects the selective recruitment of hormones and other
neurochemical processes for particular roles, given mens
and womens gender identities and others expectations for
role performance.
The biological and psychological influences we identify
in this chapter are honed through socialization to support
mens and womens role performances. Through socialization for particular roles, boys and girls learn to channel
and respond to neurochemical signals, gender identities, and
expectations of others in ways that enable them to carry
out their everyday social roles.
Hormonal Influences
Gender roles and specific social roles guide behavior
partly through the activation of hormonal changes. The
hormones most relevant to understanding sex differences
are testosterone (T), oxytocin (OT), and to some extent
cortisol (C). These hormones act as chemical transmitters
in the brain that promote performance of certain social
behaviors. With culturally masculine roles, higher levels
of T are associated with dominance, or behaviors that gain
or maintain status. In humans, such behaviors often entail
competition, risk taking, and aggression that may harm or
injure others (Booth, Granger, Mazur, & Kivlighan, 2006).
In contrast, with culturally feminine roles, higher levels
of OT (as well as reduced C and T) are associated with
behaviors that produce parental bonding, nurturance, and
intimacy (Campbell, 2008).
According to the biosocial interaction, T is relevant
when, due to personal identities and social expectancies,
people experience social interactions as dominance contests. OT is relevant when, due to personal identities and
social expectancies, people define social interactions as
involving bonding and affiliation with close others. T and
OT promote role performance in conjunction with other
hormones, including C, a hormone associated with the
experience of stress that is secreted by the adrenal gland.
Lowered C may facilitate bonding with others, and heightened C may facilitate aggression and dominance. And
other neurochemical processes, especially those associated
with rewards and learning of particular behaviors, supplement or even supplant influences of T and OT.
Hormones and Masculine Social Roles
In Mazur and Booths (1998) classic model, performance
of dominant, aggressive behaviors activates T. That is, T is

CH17.indd 637

recruited for performance of roles involving competitive

dominance. The model also postulates a reciprocal relation by which increased T promotes dominant, aggressive responding. That is, circulating T orients people to
assume roles or engage in behaviors involving competitive
Providing evidence that T is recruited in performance
of social roles or in reaction to situational provocations,
T levels among men rise in anticipation of athletic and
other competition and in response to insults, presumably to
energize and direct their physical and cognitive performance
(e.g., Cohen, Nisbett, Bowdle, & Schwarz, 1996; Suay et al.,
1999). This relation was secured in Archer s (2006) metaanalysis in which T rose in men anticipating and playing
sports and other competitions (e.g., video games), especially among the contest winners. In addition, higher
T levels among male financial traders predicted their daily
profitability (Coates & Herbert, 2008). This finding suggests that T facilitates competition even against the generalized competitors who make up financial markets.
C levels also may be implicated, given that these have
been found to rise in male and female athletes before and
during a match (Bateup, Booth, Shirtcliff, & Granger,
2002; Edwards, Wetzel, & Wyner, 2006).
T does not increase in the absence of social roles or
situational provocations that call for aggressive, dominant
behavior. Thus, mens T did not reliably increase in contrived laboratory competitions (Archer, 2006). Also, in
womens competitions, T did not rise in players of a video
game before a contest (Mazur, Susman, & Edelbrock,
1997), but it rose in female rugby and soccer players before
and during a match (Bateup et al., 2002; Edwards et al.,
2006). Hence, despite womens production of only one fifth
to one tenth of mens T levels, the hormone is activated in
both sexes by interactions that are interpreted as dominance
contests. Because men and women may not always agree in
their interpretations of dominance interactions, some differences may occur in the details of these effects. Nonetheless,
consistent with the classic model, role performances involving competitive dominance activate T.
How about the reciprocal relation whereby T activates
competitive, dominant behavior, as also stipulated by the
classic model? A meta-analysis of 11 studies that experimentally injected men with T or related synthetic androgens found no systematic rise in anger, aggression, or
hostility (Archer, 2006). It may be that the experimental
contexts did not reliably activate masculine identities and
social expectations. In the absence of competition, circulating T appears largely unrelated to behavior. Instead, it
shows effects primarily when dominance battles are imminent (e.g., Josephs, Sellers, Newman, & Mehta, 2006;
Mehta, Jones, & Josephs, 2008).

12/18/09 2:59:04 PM



In humans, dominance contests and displays are highly

varied, with most occurring without physical aggression
(Mazur & Booth, 1998). Thus, it is not surprising that only
a small, positive association emerged in a meta-analytical
review of the relation between circulating T and various
behavioral and self-report measures of aggression (metaanalytical r  .08, k  42; Archer, Graham-Kevan, &
Davies, 2005). High levels of circulating T might activate
behavior in a range of dominance-provoking situations, not
just those associated with aggression. In support, high T
in men is associated with criminal acts, especially violent
crime, and some antisocial behaviors (Booth et al., 2006;
Dabbs & Dabbs, 2000). In addition, higher T characterizes
occupations such as professional football, in which success involves self-aggrandizing displays of dominance in
face-to-face confrontations, compared with occupations
such as minister, which generally involve selflessness and
concern for others (Dabbs & Dabbs, 2000). Also, experimental manipulations of T in college women appeared to
heighten their tendencies to dress and groom their hair
attractivelybehaviors that may yield popularity and
social power in everyday competition for young women
(Dabbs et al., 2003). Additionally suggesting a role for
T in displays of dominance, men with high circulating T
smiled less in facial photographs (Dabbs, 1997). In these
ways, hormonal processes facilitate various behaviors as
people interact with others and carry out social roles.
Hormones and Feminine Social Roles
OT and other neurochemicals that promote the expression
of intimacy and caring for others are relevant to the performance of roles involving nurturance and affiliation.
OT also influences the experience of stress and may have
a dual function in promoting affiliative behavior to cope
with stress and in reflecting the level of stress experienced
in relationships (Taylor et al., 2000, 2006). OT is especially
relevant to women because of the regulation of OT receptors by estrogen and OTs stimulation of uterine contractions during labor and milk expression during lactation.
The enhancement of maternal bonding by OT is most
evident in rodents and sheep, which have been subjected
to experimental manipulations of hormones. In humans,
womens OT levels increase in contexts involving intimacy
and caring for others. For example, OT rises in women during childbirth (Takagi et al., 1985) and with massage and
sexual contact (Insel, 2000; Pedersen, 2004). Moreover,
women with higher OT in early pregnancy and postpartum engaged in more maternal bonding behaviors such as
gazing at the infants face, affectionate touch, and speaking in the high-pitched, expressive tones of motherese
(Feldman, Weller, Zagoory-Sharon, & Levine, 2007). Also,
brain regions associated with OT receptors were activated

CH17.indd 638

in mothers viewing pictures of their infants and in male

and female lovers viewing pictures of their romantic partners (Bartels & Zeki, 2004).
In humans and other large-brained primates, parental
bonds and affiliation are promoted not only by OT but
also by hormones involved in reward learning, including
opioids and dopamine (Depue & Morrone-Strupinsky,
2005; Taylor, 2002). Reward mechanisms enable bonds to
develop even without the hormones of pregnancy, parturition, and lactation. For example, close bonds to infants can
develop in adoptive relationships. Fathers and other relatives and caretakers also bond with infants. Such bonding
is promoted by experiences of reward that can be triggered
by infants vulnerability and need, by physical sensations
of tactile contact and smell, and by the high value societies
place on children. Underlying this positive affect are neurochemical reward systems that promote nurturing separately
from the hormones of pregnancy. According to Kendrick
(2004), these learned rewards can account for much of the
positive affect arising from human maternal behavior. In
evidence, manipulations of neurochemicals associated with
reward influence bonding even in nonhuman primates (e.g.,
Kalin, Shelton, & Lynn, 1995). Thus, humans and other
large-brained primates establish and maintain social bonds
through both hormonal activation and reward learning.
This dual basis of relational bonding reflects evolutionary progression away from hormonal-centric determinants
of maternal behaviour to emotional, reward-fulfilling
activation (Broad, Curley, & Keverne, 2006, p. 2204).
Other hormones also promote intimacy and tending of
others. The stress hormone C and T both are implicated in
performance of spousal and caretaking roles. A drop in C ordinarily accompanies initiation of the parental role, especially
among mothers, evidently to support nurturing (Corter &
Fleming, 1995; Fleming, Ruble, Krieger, & Wong, 1997).
In addition, fathers anticipation and vicarious experience of
childbirth produce a fall in T, as well as hormonal changes in
estradiol, C, and prolactin that mimic the changes that occur
in mothers (Berg & Wynne-Edwards, 2001, 2002; Storey,
Walsh, Quinton, & Wynne-Edwards, 2000). Also, mens T
levels decline with marriage, an effect that may favor enactment of the caring spousal and parental roles (Booth et al.,
2006). Consistent with this idea, lower levels of circulating
T are associated with married mens close involvement with
their spouse and emotional responsiveness to their infants
cries (e.g., Fleming, Corter, Stallings, & Steiner, 2002; Gray,
Kahlenberg, Barrett, Lipson, & Ellison, 2002).
In general, performance of roles that involve dominance
and competition is associated with increased T levels.
Performance of roles involving nurturance and intimacy
coincides with increased OT levels and reduced C and T. It
might seem plausible that this hormonal regulation is more

12/18/09 2:59:05 PM

Roles Guide Behavior 639

reliable in the sex that has chronically higher levels of a

hormone, or at least that the regulatory processes function somewhat differently for the sexes, given differences
in biology (e.g., T in men is generated through the testes). Nonetheless, womens competitiveness and aggressiveness are associated with increments of T (Archer
et al., 2005). When T was calculated as a percentage
increase in each sex above basal levels, T increased 24%
in female rugby players anticipating a game and 49% in
those playing it, as well as 36% in male tennis players
anticipating a match and 6% in those playing it, along
with a 12% rise in male wrestlers during a match (Bateup
et al., 2002). Also, under conditions of stress, artificially
increasing OT in men appears to promote their bonding and
affiliation (Heinrichs, Baumgartner, Kirshbaum, & Ehlert,
2003). Additionally enabling flexibility in male and female
role performance, the neurochemical systems that underpin reward learning work, in addition to OT, to regulate
attach ments in both sexes. Research has yet to fully clarify
the extent to which these neurochemical systems that regulate culturally masculine and feminine behaviorthat is,
dominant, competitive behavior and nurturing, supportive
behaviorfunction differently in men and women (Bateup
et al., 2002; Broad et al., 2006).
Organizing Influences of Hormones
The responsiveness of OT, T, and C to performance of
social roles explained in the prior section can be termed
activational effects. Also, gonadal hormones, especially
androgens, have organizational effects during early development and adolescence that produce enduring changes in
the nervous system and brain structure (Cohen-Bendahan,
van de Beek, & Berenbaum, 2005; Sisk & Zehr, 2005).
Exposure to androgens during these periods affects the
developing brain in ways that masculinize or defeminize
certain behaviors and establish differential receptivity to
particular socializing influences. Thus, organizational
effects might modulate the interactions between neurochemical and psychological processes described in the
prior section, with the result that men might be disposed
toward certain activities and women toward others.
The prenatal development of males and females
diverges primarily because the testes of the developing
XY fetus secrete T during gestation. The ovaries of the XX
fetus produce minimal hormones, but the placenta exposes
both XY and XX fetuses to high levels of estrogen. Without
some exposure to T, development follows a femaletypical course. Despite some limited evidence of direct,
nonhormonal genetic effects on male and female development (Arnold, 2004), the organizing effects that have been
clearly established involve prenatal (and early postnatal)
exposure to androgens. Because androgen receptors are

CH17.indd 639

found in several brain systems early in life, each of which

is active at different developmental time points, androgen
exposure might affect various behaviors through somewhat
separate brain mechanisms (Hines, 2009).
Extensive research has examined the effects of prenatal
androgen exposure on nonhuman primates. For example,
in rhesus monkeys, artificially increasing the exposure of
female fetuses to prenatal androgens enhanced masculine
behaviors of juvenile rough-and-tumble play and foot-clasp
mounting (a male sexual posture), whereas increasing the
exposure of male fetuses to androgen agonists decreased
these behaviors (Wallen, 1996, 2005). Prenatal androgens
had less consistent effects on other sex-typical behaviors,
including aggression, threat, and submission, which differed between normal males and normal females only in
some rearing environments and social contexts.
In human studies, naturally occurring variation in prenatal hormones has sometimes, although not consistently,
related to the differing behavior patterns of girls and boys
(Auyeung et al., 2009). In contrast, masculinized and
defeminized behaviors occur in girls with CAH disorder,
which involves levels of prenatal androgen exposure that
are comparable to those of normal males (Cohen-Bendahan
et al., 2005). CAH girls, more than normal girls, play with
construction and transportation toys, choose boys as playmates, and engage in physically aggressive, highly active,
rough-and-tumble play (Pasterski et al., 2007). In addition,
although CAH girls were found in one meta-analytical
review to perform better than normal girls on tests of mental rotation, an aspect of spatial ability (Puts, McDaniel,
Jordan, & Breedlove, 2008), a subsequent meta-analysis
of the same data revealed no significant difference (Hines,
2009). Also, as adults, women with CAH are less likely to be
heterosexual than are other women (e.g., Hines, Brook, &
Conway, 2004). Such effects may be partially due to environmental causes because the masculinization of CAH
girls external genitalia plausibly alerts them and their parents to their atypical status. Nonetheless, parents of CAH
girls have been observed to encourage sex-typical toy play
in their CAH daughters, as well as in their other daughters
(Pasterski et al., 2005).
As we noted in the introduction to this chapter, exposure
to prenatal androgens influences childrens play preferences
and activity levels and may thereby affect their receptivity
to some socializing efforts of parents and peers (Beaulieu &
Bugental, 2006). Fathers and male peers may respond
to boys play in ways that promote learning of particular
social skills (Pellis & Pellis, 2007), especially those associated with the agentic, dominant performance of masculine
roles in adulthood (Pellegrini, 1995). These themes may
be elaborated further in fantasy play, which emerges by
the age of 3. Compared with girls play about domestic

12/18/09 2:59:05 PM



situations and close relationships, boys play more often

involves action adventures of pursuit and conquest (Leaper &
Friedman, 2006). With increasing maturity, girls continue
to favor relational themes and boys to favor aggression and
adventure themes, often in the context of video games
and sports. Through these experiences, boys and girls
develop distinctive expectations, preferences, and abilities
(Bussey & Bandura, 1999).
In general, prenatal exposure to androgens biases the
biosocial processes that produce sex differences in some
behaviors by increasing boys activity levels, preferences
for active toys, and rough-and-tumble play. These factors
may orient boys toward particular socialization experiences,
especially ones that involve vigorous pursuit and physical
dominance contests. As a result of this socialization,
men may develop personal identities that are relatively
agentic, and others may expect them to act in agentic ways.
Consequently, men may be especially suited to perform
roles that require agency combined with brief bursts of
energy, strength, and speed.


Gender roles influence peoples self-concepts and thereby
become gender identitiesindividuals sense of themselves as female or male. Gender identities arise because
most people accept, or internalize, at least some aspects
of cultural meanings associated with their sexmeanings
that in turn arise from the differing social roles of men and
women (Wood & Eagly, 2009). Gender identities thereby
put the culture inside the person.
People differ in the extent to which they incorporate
gender roles into their self-concepts. These individual
differences have varying origins, including socialization
experiences, role occupancies (e.g., paid occupations), and
early hormonal influences. Also, not everyone does masculine and feminine in the same waypeople differ in the
aspects of gender roles that they adopt. For example, men
who regard themselves as masculine could be invested
in culturally masculine traits such as aggressiveness and
dominance or in masculine interests such as football
and hunting. Historically, most research on gender identity has emphasized the agentic and communal personality traits established as the core of gender role beliefs
(Bem, 1974; Spence & Helmreich, 1978). This approach
illustrates personality psychologists search for traits that
directly represent male and female gender and that thereby
can account for individual differences in masculine and
feminine behaviors.
Gender identities motivate responding through selfregulatory processes. That is, people use their gender identity

CH17.indd 640

as a standard against which to regulate their behavior

(Wood, Christensen, Hebl, & Rothgerber, 1997). People
who have a masculine self-concept involving traits of
dominance and assertiveness might regulate their behavior
by, for example, seeking opportunities for leadership. Selfregulation proceeds in stages, beginning with testing the
extent to which current behavior matches self-standards
(e.g., Carver & Scheier, 2008). Closer matches produce
positive emotions and increased self-esteem, whereas mismatches produce negative emotions and decreased esteem.
When signaled by negative feelings, people operate on
their behavior to bring it more in line with the desired
standard. In this way, esteem and emotions constitute feedback about whether adjustments are necessary to meet
Illustrating such self-regulation, Wood and colleagues
(1997) first assessed the strength of participants gender
identities on items that evaluated, for example, the importance of being similar to the ideal man or woman in society.
Then participants imagined acting in masculine (dominant
and assertive) or feminine (warm and communal) ways.
People who were strongly identified with their sex showed
a self-evaluation boost when their vicarious experience was
congruent with that identitythat is, dominant behavior
for men and communal behavior for women. Additional
research extended these findings to everyday behavior by
having participants keep diaries of their social interactions
for a week (Witt & Wood, in press). When men acted in
masculine ways or women in feminine ways, those with
a stronger gender identity reported higher self-esteem and
more positive feelings.
According to gender schema theory (Bem, 1981), selfregulation works not only through motivational signals of
affect and self-esteem but also through enhanced attention,
processing, and recall of information relevant to gender
standards. For example, those who are highly identified
with culturally feminine warmth and concern for others
may especially attend to, process, and recall information
relevant to these qualities in themselves and others.
Following the logic of self-regulation, role congruity
theory (Diekman & Eagly, 2008) anticipates that men and
women select into certain social roles because those roles
afford pursuit of valued goals and thereby promote positive
outcomes and well-being (Evans & Diekman, 2009). For
example, because women on average place more importance than men on caregiving goals, including in family relationships and marriage (Cinamon & Rich, 2002),
they pursue communally demanding occupations such as
nurse and teacher (Evans & Diekman, 2009) and are more
involved in family roles (Abele, 2003).
Also in line with self-regulation, the greater importance
of close relationships for women renders their well-being

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Influence of Gender Identities

especially sensitive to relationship quality. Thus, being

married, although beneficial for both sexes well-being, is
associated for women with greater emotional highs, as well
as greater lows (Wood, Rhodes, & Whelan, 1989). Physical
health outcomes yield the same pattern: Both sexes benefit
from marriage, but women show especially negative outcomes from marital distress (Kiecolt-Glaser & Newton,
2001). Also, men have been found to value employment
roles more than women (Cinamon & Rich, 2002), especially positions affording social status (Evans & Diekman,
2009), and extent of satisfaction with paid employment
tends to be more important to mens well-being (Aldous &
Ganey, 1999). In these ways, the life roles that men and
women value influence their role pursuit and also influence how much role-related outcomes impact happiness
and life satisfaction.
With development, children learn to regulate their
behavior according to their sense of themselves as female
or male. For instance, in a study of children ranging from
2 to 4 years, only the older children anticipated feeling
better about themselves after playing with toys typical of
their own sex (Bussey & Bandura, 1992). Furthermore,
these older childrens anticipatory affective reactions predicted their subsequent toy choices.
Types of Gender Identity
The most basic type of gender identity, ordinarily found
in children as young as 2 years, is experiencing oneself
as male or female (Kohlberg, 1966; Ruble, Martin, &
Berenbaum, 2006). With this realization, young children
also tend to prefer their own sex. Because collective
identities link people to their various roles and groups,
maturation brings individuals multiple identities, based on,
for example, family status, occupation, religion, race and
ethnicity, and sexual orientation (Stewart & McDermott,
2004). Gender is not necessarily the most important of
these identities (Smith, 2007). Among schoolchildren,
for example, gender identity is more important than ethnic identity for members of the majority ethnicity, but the
two identities are equally important for minority ethnicities
(Turner & Brown, 2007).
Adults experience themselves as male or female when
they align themselves psychologically with their own
sex, as in, I identify with women/men. These collective
social identities can reflect what is normative for gender
groups in either a descriptive sense (I am a typical guy;
Luhtanen & Crocker, 1992) or a prescriptive sense (I am
an ideal guy; Wood et al., 1997). Also, given womens
changing roles in postindustrial societies, their identities
may encompass a progressive view of women as having
careers and sharing domestic work with men or with a more

CH17.indd 641


traditional view of women as homemakers. Supporting

this distinction, women with stronger collective identity
expressed more sexist attitudes if this identity referred to
traditional rather than progressive relations between the
sexes (Becker & Wagner, 2009).
A collective identity as a man or women reflects
the classification of people into two categories, male
or female. Alternative collective gender identities also
existfor example, intersex, intergender, pangender, and
genderqueerall of which refer to individuals whose gender identity is a combination of male and female or invokes
a third sex. And transgender rejects the biological inevitability of being one sex or the other. Additional variants
depart from normative heterosexuality, including gay, bear,
fag, lesbian, butch, femme, and bisexual. In some societies, certain of these alternative identities are not rare, such
as the kathoey or ladyboy identity adopted by feminine
boys and men in Thailand, comprising about 10% of the
male population. Suggesting increasing acceptance, boys
with this identity have been assigned transgender toilet
facilities in some secondary schools (Head, 2008).
The most popular measures of gender identity assess
not collective identification with a gender group but rather
beliefs about self attributes, in particular the agentic and
communal personality traits that reflect the main components of gender stereotypes. Specifically, personality traits
more stereotypical of one sex than the other and more
favorably evaluated in that sex constitute the items of
the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI; Bem, 1974) and
Spence and Helmreichs (1978) closely related Personal
Attributes Questionnaire (PAQ). These measures yield
one scale of self-reported feminine, communal traits (e.g.,
warm and gentle) and another of self-reported masculine, agentic traits (e.g., aggressive and self-confident).
With these two dimensions, it is possible to represent a
masculine identity of high masculinity and low femininity,
a feminine identity of high femininity and low masculinity,
and identities with similar levels of masculinity and
femininity (Bem, 1974).
Agentic and communal identities develop relatively
slowly in children. Preschool children self-attribute
primarily favorable characteristics, not gender stereotypical traits (e.g., Aubry, Ruble, & Silverman, 1999; Cowan &
Hoffman, 1986). By middle childhood, most children
ascribe gender-stereotypical personality traits to themselves, and this tendency grows stronger in adolescence
(Ruble et al., 2006).
Despite psychologists reliance on the BSRI and PAQ,
people ascribe gender-stereotypical attributes to themselves
on dimensions other than agency and communion. For
example, people also possess a gender identity based on sexdifferentiated vocations and interests (Lippa, 2001, 2005).

12/18/09 2:59:07 PM



Additional facets of gender identity reflect investment

in an individual versus social sense of self. Cross and
Madson (1997) built on the cultural dimensions of individualism and collectivism to define masculine identity as an
independent sense of self highlighting individuals unique
attributes and feminine identity as an interdependent sense
of self highlighting relationships and group memberships.
However, other researchers parsed the interdependence
dimension into a masculine focus on oneself within teams
and organizations and a feminine focus on oneself within
relationships with close others such as friends and family
(Baumeister & Sommer, 1997; Gardner & Gabriel, 2004).
These two aspects of interdependence link identities to
the differing role occupancies of men and women,
whereby more men than women strive for status within
organizations and collectives and more women than men
invest in close relationships through their caring activities
in families and other relationships.
Group identities can emerge and fade, depending on
the context (Sinclair, Hardin, & Lowery, 2006), although
psychologists typically have treated these identities as
chronic self-attributes. Identities shift with the specifics of
the local contexts in which people interact (Burke, 2004;
Tajfel, 1978). For example, gender identity can become
salient through being a solo representative of ones sex
in a mixed-sex group (e.g., Sekaquaptewa & Thompson,
2002). Also, gender identity varies in strength depending
on features of the situation such as the sex of an interaction
partner (e.g., Leszczynski & Strough, 2008).
Predicting Behavior From Gender Identity
Measures of gender identity are useful for research to the
extent that they predict relevant behaviors. Often they do not
predict behaviorand they should not be expected to do so.
Gender identity measures, like personality trait and attitude
measures, predict behavior successfully when the content of
the behavioral measure is compatible with the content of the
predictive measure (Ajzen, 2005; Eagly & Chaiken, 1993).
Consistent with this compatibility principle, the strength
of ones collective identification with men or women predicts not all culturally masculine and feminine behaviors
but instead group-related phenomena such as a preference
for ones own sex and self-stereotyping on gender stereotypical qualities (Wood & Eagly, 2009). Measures based on
agency and communion self-ratings, the BSRI and PAQ, are
not general-purpose predictors of all sex-related behaviors
(e.g., interest in fashion). Instead, these scales predict specifically whether people will act in agentic or communal
ways (Spence & Buckner, 2000; Taylor & Hall, 1982).
Other identity measures also predict compatible behaviors.
Gender identities involving vocational and leisure-time

CH17.indd 642

interests predict the differing occupational preferences

of women and men (Lippa, 2005). Feminine relational
measures assessing ones feelings of interdependence with
close others predict attention to and valuing of close relationships (e.g., Gabriel & Gardner, 1999; Gore, Cross, &
Morris, 2006). The logic of compatibility follows from
self-regulation: People with a strong gender identity in
one domain regulate their behavior in that domain. Thus,
people who define themselves as highly agentic act in dominant, assertive ways, whereas those who define themselves
as highly interdependent bond with significant others.
In general, individuals regulate their behavior in line
with their gender identities, whether these are based on
collective male and female groups, gender-stereotypical
traits, or relational closeness to others. Through selfregulatory mechanisms, people enact these personally
defining gender roles as they carry out such everyday roles
as parent and employee. Regulation of behavior by gender identities is one facet of our biosocial model of sex
and gender. This mechanism works in conjunction with
hormonal processes and neurochemical mechanisms associated with reward to enable successful role performance.
In line with this analysis, women high in masculinity on the
BSRI, who perceived themselves as self-directed, action
oriented, and resourceful, were likely to have higher circulating T (Baucom, Besch, & Callahan, 1985). Given that T
is recruited in the service of role performance, this pattern
suggests that agentic women are sensitive to dominance
issues in daily life and recruit T as they assert dominance. Other neurochemicals associated with reward also
might be implicated in the performance of gender-typical
behavior, including dopamine reactivity in the brain that
underlies the learning of preferences (Schultz, 2006).


Gender roles permeate social expectations, as well as individuals sense of themselves as male or female. Simply put,
we expect men to act in masculine ways and fill maletypical roles (e.g., primary family provider) and women to
act in feminine ways and to fill female-typical roles (e.g.,
primary caretaker of children). Gender role expectations
influence behavior through their social consequences.
Conformity to gender expectations usually garners
social rewards, and nonconformity usually garners fewer
rewards and even social rejection. Social expectations
shaped by gender thereby influence social interaction.
Social constructionists refer to this process as doing
gender, as people recurrently produce behaviors stereotypical of their sex as they interact with others (West &
Zimmerman, 1987).

12/18/09 2:59:07 PM

Influence of Social Expectations 643

Consensual gender role expectations exert influence not

only through the beliefs and actions of specific interaction
partners but also through individuals expectations about
the beliefs and probable reactions of others who are not
present (Allport, 1954). Such expectations are not necessarily explicit but often implicit and influential largely
outside of awareness. Also, interaction partners often are
unable or unwilling to acknowledge their gender-based
expectations and instead communicate them in subtle ways
(e.g., falling silent or standing farther away).
Social Expectations Promote
Behavioral Confirmation
People generally approve of others who conform to gender
roles and penalize others who counter them. This approval
is directed even toward young children, whose parents
tend to encourage activities and toys that are typical for
childrens sex (Lytton & Romney, 1991; Pasterski et al.,
2005). This is not to say that people favor hyperfeminized
women and hypermacho men. But conformity to gender
roles garners rewards because it validates shared beliefs
about women and men and promotes social interaction that
is easy to follow and understand.
Positive and negative sanctions for gender conformity
and deviation are evident in the prevalence of approving,
benevolent beliefs about women who conform to traditional gender roles and of disapproving, hostile beliefs
about those who violate them (Glick & Fiske, 2001). On
individual difference measures, hostile and benevolent
beliefs were correlatedthat is, they were two sides of the
same coin. Thus, the people who endorsed negative beliefs
about nontraditional women (labeled hostile sexists by
Glick and Fiske, 2001) tended to be the same people who
endorsed positive beliefs about traditional women (labeled
benevolent sexists).
People commonly express hostility to various counterstereotypical behaviors. Children disapprove of peers
violations of gender norms concerning clothing, hairstyles, and styles of play (e.g., Blakemore, 2003). Adults
react similarly in more mature domains. For example, in
small-group interaction, women who behave in a dominant
or extremely competent manner tend to lose likability and
influence (Carli, 2001; Shackelford, Wood, & Worchel,
1996). Women in supervisory roles may be penalized
for failing to attend to others emotions or for expressing
angry emotions (Brescoll & Uhlmann, 2008; Byron, 2007),
as well as for performing at outstanding levels in stereotypically masculine roles (Heilman, Wallen, Fuchs, &
Tamkins, 2004). In contrast, men, more than women, tend
to lose social status for behaving passively, unassertively, anxiously, and negatively (e.g., Anderson, John,

CH17.indd 643

Keltner, & Kring, 2001), and modest and unassuming men

are viewed as insufficiently competent for leadership roles
(Rudman, 1998; Rudman & Glick, 2001). Nonetheless,
sometimes the benefits of gender nonconformity outweigh
its social costs, motivating people to act in ways that counter gender stereotypes, such as when women anticipate gender prejudice (e.g., Kaiser & Miller, 2001).
People often attempt to deflect negative responses to
their nonconforming behaviors by reclaiming a conventional gender identity. For example, men and women who
believed that they had performed well on a task typical
of the other sex attempted to hide their success from others, falsely claimed success on a task typical of their own
sex, and expressed greater interest in same-sex activities
(Rudman & Fairchild, 2004). These mitigating strategies
were stronger among those who reported expecting reprisals from others for their gender nonconformity. Also, men
experiencing discomfort from performing the feminine
task of braiding hair successfully reduced this discomfort
by publicly claiming a conventional sexual orientation
(I am heterosexual, e.g., Bosson, Prewitt-Freilino, &
Taylor, 2005). Some evidence also suggests that mens
gender identity (i.e., their collective identity or manhood) requires continual social proof and thus is more
easily threatened than womens identity (or womanhood;
Vandello, Bosson, Cohen, Burnaford, & Weaver, 2008).
Instilling conformity to gender norms does not require
overt rewards and punishments. Instead, the explicit communication of stereotypical expectations by influential others
can be sufficient. In a classic demonstration, female students shaped their self-presentations to fit the preferences
of a highly eligible male interaction partner (Zanna & Pack,
1975). When this man reported preferring women who were
traditional (vs. nontraditional), these young women presented themselves as conforming to his preferences and furthermore performed worse on a test of intellectual aptitude
that was to be shared with this male partner. This stereotype
confirmation is not surprising given that these female students anticipated meeting a desirable man who had explicitly stated his preferences (see the conceptual replication
with male participants in Morier & Seroy, 1994).
In the standard account, such behavioral confirmations
emerge through social perceivers forming expectancies
about an individual target based on gender stereotypes and
then behaving toward that individual as if the stereotypical
beliefs were true (Olson, Roese, & Zanna, 1996). The target
person responds so as to confirm the gender stereotype, and
the perceiver interprets the targets behavior in line with the
expectancy. The perceiver then encodes yet another
instance of stereotype-consistent behavior and thereby
strengthens gender role expectations. Although the link
between expectancies and behavior is contingent on various

12/18/09 2:59:08 PM



conditions (Olson et al., 1996), the behavioral confirmation

of gender-based expectations through this sequence serves
to maintain, propagate, and justify peoples stereotypes
about women and men.
Even without the explicit statement of gender norms,
people often conform to interaction partners presumed
gender stereotypical expectancies (see review by Geis,
1993). For example, in an experiment by Skrypnek and
Snyder (1982), task partners negotiated a more traditional
division of labor when they believed that their (unseen)
partner was of the other sex, regardless of their partner s
actual sex. In addition, lack of awareness of certain stages
in the confirmation process enhances such effects. If perceivers were aware that they caused another s gender stereotypical behavior, they would not attribute the behavior
to that persons disposition or conclude support for gender
stereotypes. Also, if targets were aware of a perceiver s
stereotypical expectations, they might act to counter
instead of fulfill them (Miller & Turnbull, 1986).
Consistent with current understanding of behavioral
confirmation, these effects do not require and may even be
impaired by the explicit communication of expectations. In
the new generation of confirmation research, this insight is
shrinking the importance of explicit expectations in producing behavioral confirmation. In one study that eliminated
the necessity for perceivers conscious expectations, priming men to think of women as sexual objects made them
more likely to treat an individual woman applicant in a sexual way during a mock job interview (Rudman & Borgida,
1995). If women respond in stereotypical ways, then the
perceivers initial impressions are supported (see Chen &
Bargh, 1997). Eliminating the necessity for perceiver expectations altogether, subtle cues such as nonverbal behavioral
mimicry from an interaction partner could yield conformity
to gender stereotypes (Leander, Chartrand, & Wood, 2009).
Specifically, following mimicry by an interaction partner,
participants apparently increased their desire to affiliate and
therefore enhanced their conformity to gender stereotypes
that presumably were shared with their partner. Thus, mimicked women performed worse on a math test. These findings suggest that peoples own imaginings about interaction
partners and others expectations are sufficient to promote
stereotype-consistent behavior.
Stereotype Threat
Gender expectations also influence behavior when they
are simply in the air and not held by any specific interaction partner or social audience. Because gender stereotypes specify task abilities, they can establish performance
expectations in culturally masculine or feminine domains.
Men are expected to have advantage at masculine tasks

CH17.indd 644

involving, for example, mechanics, math, and leadership

and women to excel at feminine tasks involving social
sensitivity, sewing, and emotional intelligence. When
one of these abilities is evaluated, activating expectations
about the inferior competence of one sex can impair their
performance. This phenomenon is called stereotype threat
(Steele, 1997; Steele & Aronson, 1995).
Negative performance stereotypes can be activated in
various ways immediately before a test or competition.
For example, performance decrements occurred when participants in a laboratory experiment were told that one sex
excelled at the task in the past (e.g., Johns, Schmader, &
Martens, 2005), were presented as the solo member of their
sex in a competition (e.g., Ben-Zeev, Fein, & Inzlicht, 2005),
or were exposed to stereotypical media portrayals of their
sex (e.g., Davies, Spencer, Quinn, & Gerhardstein, 2002).
Activated gender stereotypes impair performance when
individuals become anxious about confirming the negative
stereotype in others eyes or in their own. This anxiety can
result in impairments in working memory (Schmader & Johns,
2003), mental intrusions (Dardenne, Dumont, & Bollier,
2007), physiological stress responses (Murphy, Steele, &
Gross, 2007), and perhaps depletion of self-control strength
(Inzlicht, McKay, & Aronson, 2006). People feel anxious
because their self-integrity is threatened by the simultaneous
activation of three conflicting beliefs (Schmader, Johns, &
Forbes, 2008): (a) the group stereotype of inferior ability (e.g.,
women cannot read maps), (b) personal identification with
the group (e.g., I am a woman), and (c) knowledge of ones
own ability (e.g., I am good at map reading). Because these
beliefs are imbalanced only when people initially believe in
their own ability, stereotype threat is experienced most often
by people who are highly identified in a counterstereotypic
domain, including, for example, women who view themselves as mathematically talented.
Stereotype threat often produces a decrement in test
performance in the unfavorably stereotyped sex. For
example, womens math test performance is sensitive to
negative ability stereotypes (e.g., Spencer, Steele, & Quinn,
1999; Steele, Spencer, & Aronson, 2002), and womens willingness to lead appears to be lessened by stereotype threat
(Davies, Spencer, & Steele, 2005). In mirror fashion, when
gender stereotypes are salient, mens performance falters
at tasks involving social sensitivity (Koenig & Eagly,
2005), emotional intelligence (Keller & Bless, 2005), and
affective information processing (Leyens, Dsert, Croizet, &
Darcis, 2000). In addition, the sex that is stereotyped as
superior in an ability can experience improved performance, or stereotype lift, from downward comparison with
the less able group. Yet, this lift typically is weaker than the
decline in performance experienced by the unfavorably
stereotyped sex (Walton & Cohen, 2003).

12/18/09 2:59:08 PM

Empirical Evidence for Sex Differences and Similarities 645

Performance does not always falter when the lesser ability

of ones group is made salient. It remains unclear whether the
mild forms of stereotype threat inherent in asking students
to note their sex on high-stakes tests such as the SAT routinely affect performance (Cullen, Waters, & Sackett, 2006;
Stricker & Ward, 2004). Also, a counterreaction of enhanced
performance can emerge among threatened individuals
who are especially confident in their own ability (Hoyt &
Blascovich, 2007). And when individuals have more than one
identity relevant to a domain, as with Asian women and math
aptitude, performance depends on which identity is salient
Asian identity enhanced math performance, but female identity reduced it (Shih, Pittinsky, & Ambady, 1999).
In general, people conform to gender role expectations
that are explicitly communicated, just implied or expected, or
merely floating in the air. Resistance is possible but unlikely
when these expectations hide out below the level of conscious
awareness. Others expectations work to promote role performance in conjunction with self identities and with the hormonal processes and neurochemical mechanisms associated
with reward. Thus, in our three-way biosocial model emphasizing others expectations, gender identity, and hormonal
processes, a woman holding an infant might be responding
to others expectations and to her own identity as a nurturer.
Such close contact can activate OT and neurochemicals of
reward that further promote attachment (Taylor, 2002).


At the beginning of this chapter, we claimed that a Martian
landing anywhere on earth would puzzle over why men and
boys engage in different activities than women and girls.
That is, sex differences in everyday activities are large
enough to be readily apparent without the aid of statistical analyses or controlled research designs. Any observer
of humans daily lives would be struck also by variability
in sex differences across contexts. These patterns of variability depend partly on how male and female reproductive
and physical attributes facilitate or impair performance at
specific life tasks that emerge within a given society. Thus,
in a society that engages in warfare, men might display
marked physical aggression on the battlefield but much
less aggression in friendships and family relationships.
Sex Differences in Psychological Research
Many studies that have been conducted include comparisons of female and male behavior; thus, sex differences
were an early and continuing target of meta-analytical
integrations. Quantitative syntheses estimate the size and

CH17.indd 645

variability of sex differences in many aspects of social

behavior. Aggregating across all available meta-analyses
that had compared female and male social behavior,
Richard, Bond, and Stokes-Zoota (2003) concluded that
sex differences were somewhat smaller (r  .13) than
effects averaged across the entire field of social psychology
(r  .22). Yet, the average magnitude of the sex effects was
comparable to the effects in several foundational research
areas in social psychology, including attribution (r  .14)
and social influence (r  .13). Similarly, Hyde (2005,
2007) aggregated 128 meta-analytical effects representing
sex differences and similarities in personality, social, and
cognitive psychology. While noting the importance of contextual variation, Hyde highlighted the evidence for similarities between women and men. Specifically, she termed
almost half of the meta-analytical results small effects,
notwithstanding the larger sex differences that emerged
with motor performance, sexuality, and aggression.
Are sex differences small? Even if they are, small does
not mean unimportant. Small effects can have substantial
impact when they reliably characterize behavior across
time and experiences (e.g., Abelson, 1985). But questions
about effect size are not answered effectively by aggregating results across many meta-analyses. Such superaggregations of sex comparisons are not theory driven and
thus do not distinguish between the behavioral domains
that theoretically should versus should not yield sex differences. Moreover, each individual meta-analysis typically
aggregates findings across a broad behavioral category,
often collapsing across contexts and behaviors for which
theories hold that sex differences are more or less likely.
The standard result in individual quantitative syntheses comparing women and men is that some studies yield
large sex differences, most yield smaller sex differences,
and a few yield reversals of the overall tendency, just as for
other phenomena in social and personality psychology. The
principle that virtually all psychological phenomena vary
across settings, methods, and participant attributes has been
labeled contextualism by McGuire (1983) and other methodologists, who argue that this is the very patterning theorists of social behavior are obliged to address. Researchers
can focus on the rich tapestry of difference and similarity and build their theories to address this complexity. The
alternative is for researchers to bury within aggregates
the striking sex differences that people recognize in daily life
as characteristic of male or female behavior. To illustrate these
issues, we consider the bad and the good of social behavior
that is, aggressive behavior and prosocial behavior.
Aggressive Behavior
In view of the association of agency with men, it is not
surprising that people ordinarily ascribe aggressiveness

12/18/09 2:59:09 PM



more to men than to women (e.g., Williams & Best, 1990).

Aggression, as behavior intended to harm others, might
seem less related to communion. Nevertheless, the ascription to women of passiveaggressive traits such as whiny,
complaining, and nagging suggests forms of female aggression (Spence et al., 1979; Williams & Best, 1990), especially relational acts that can wreak psychological harm.
As expected given the biosocial constraints of mens
greater size and strength, physical aggression produced
the largest sex differences favoring men, with metaanalytical effects as large as r  .41 (Knight, Fabes, &
Higgins, 1996; see summary in Hyde, 2005). Research with
children and adolescents yielded a similar effect favoring
boys (r  .34; Card, Stucky, Sawalani, & Little, 2008).
Much larger sex differences are found with extreme forms
of real world aggression, as reflected in crime statistics that
more men than women commit murders (r  .93), all kinds
of violent crime (r  .81), and property crime (r  .56;
U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2008).
In contrast to findings involving physical aggression,
direct verbal aggression generally produces smaller sex
differences in the male direction (e.g., Eagly & Steffen,
1986). Also, indirect forms of aggression that involve,
for example, gossiping and spreading damaging rumors
produce small meta-analytical differences in the female
direction (Archer & Coyne, 2005; Card et al., 2008). In
addition, in interactions between heterosexual intimate
partners, meta-analytical data show that physically damaging aggression is male dominated but everyday, minor acts
of physical aggression (e.g., slapping) are slightly female
dominated (Archer, 2000).
The logic behind this variability lies in culturally shared
gender role beliefs. At the descriptive level, these beliefs
accurately track the variability in findings across studies.
Specifically, in Eagly and Steffens (1986) meta-analysis,
judges contemplated the aggressive acts examined in
each of the studies in the review. As expected, the more
likely these judges thought it would be for typical men
(vs. women) to engage in a behavior, the larger was the
behavioral sex difference in the meta-analyzed studies.
Thus, beliefs about men and women predicted the size of
the actual sex differences in aggressive acts.
Because gender role beliefs are prescriptive, as well as
descriptive, people are attentive to others expectations about
their aggressive behavior. For example, the usual tendency
for men to aggress more than women in a game situation
disappeared when participants were deindividuated
that is, made anonymous to one another, thus nullifying the
effects of others expectations (Lightdale & Prentice, 1994).
Also, in meta-analytical data, provocation of research participants reduced the sex difference in aggression. When confronted by insults or negative evaluations, women became

CH17.indd 646

somewhat more aggressive than men, presumably because

such behaviors violated social norms about behaving
politely toward women (Bettencourt & Miller, 1996).
Consistent with mens greater physical strength, the more
that female (vs. male) judges perceived acts likely to cause
harm to others and danger to themselves, the larger the sex
difference in the male direction in the original research
(see also Bettencourt & Miller, 1996). Women are thus not
expected to confront others physically in clearly dangerous
In summary, although aggression is often in the male
domain, the equation between men and aggressiveness is
most valid for physical aggression. It is illustrated dramatically in extreme forms of damaging violence. However,
women and girls can sometimes be more indirectly aggressive than men and boys. Also, womens aggressiveness is
likely to equal or exceed mens when others violate social
norms by being mean to women or when gender norms are
nullified by anonymity.
Prosocial Behavior
Consistent with gender role beliefs, sex differences in
prosocial behavior, ordinarily defined by psychologists
as acts intended to help others, depend on whether such
acts invoke communion or agency. The female gender
roles demand for communal behavior fosters acts of caring
for others and tending to their individual needs, primarily in
close relationships. The male gender roles demand for agentic behavior can foster some forms of prosocial behavior,
especially physically challenging acts of rescuing and the
chivalrous protection of dependent others (see Eagly &
Koenig, 2006, for review; Eagly, in press).
This variability across types of prosocial behaviors is
mirrored in gender role beliefs. In a meta-analysis integrating studies of varied helping behaviors (Eagly &
Crowley, 1986), judges estimates of the likelihood that
women versus men would engage in the behaviors thus
accurately tracked the sex differences obtained in the
Culturally feminine prosocial behavior includes communally caring for and supporting others. In the United
States, for example, women comprise approximately 75%
of caregivers for older family members and friends and
approximately 63% of grandparents living with and caring
for grandchildren (U.S. Health Resources and Services
Administration, 2005). Consistent with these findings, the
moral reasoning of women (vs. men) is based somewhat
more on caring and responsibility to others (r  .14; Jaffee &
Hyde, 2000). Emotional support of others is facilitated by
the greater emotional expressiveness of women than men,
especially their more frequent and intense expressions of
joy, love, fear, and happiness (Grossman & Wood, 1993).

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Empirical Evidence for Sex Differences and Similarities 647

Also, in a meta-analysis of personality research, womens

(vs. mens) self-ratings indicated more tender-minded and
nurturant personalities (r  .35; Feingold, 1994).
Research has documented similar findings with children. In Eisenberg and Fabess (1998) meta-analysis of prosocial behavior, girls were slightly more helpful than boys
overall (r  .09) but more so when helping expressed
kindness and consideration (r  .21). In close relationships among adults, women generally provide more sensitive emotional support (see review by Burleson & Kunkel,
2006). This pattern extends to same-sex and other-sex
friendships (e.g., Rose & Rudolph, 2006) and to marital
relationships (e.g., Cutrona, 1996), especially in womens
provision of emotional support to their spouse when it is
most needed (Neff & Karney, 2005).
Womens caring and emotional support should be
enhanced by their tendencies to manifest empathy and
sympathy and to be sensitive to subtle cues conveying others emotional states. Meta-analyses of empathy and sympathy have favored girls and women, with developmental
trends showing an increase in this sex difference with age
(Eisenberg, Fabes, & Spinrad, 2006). Meta-analyses examining various forms of nonverbal sensitivity also have generally favored women and girls (Hall, 2006).
Studies of helping behavior in social psychology have
not usually addressed caring behavior in close relationships.
Instead, most studies examined brief encounters between
strangers, often in field experiments conducted in natural
settings (see meta-analysis by Eagly & Crowley, 1986).
Given that most of these studies involved bystander interventions or polite, chivalrous behaviors, it is not surprising that men helped somewhat more than women in these
studies (r  .17). The power of social norms to induce this
type of masculine behavior is revealed in the substantial
sex difference in the male direction when onlookers were
present (r  .37), compared with its absence when the
potential helpers were alone (r  .01).
Helping in these social psychological studies did not
always require assertive intervention (Eagly & Crowley,
1986). To identify behaviors requiring an active, agentic
approach, this meta-analysis separated the studies according to whether a need merely presented itself to participants (e.g., observing that someone is ill or endangered) or
an explicit request to help was directed to them (e.g., asking for a charity contribution). Consistent with the agentic
theme of the male gender role, men were especially more
helpful than women when the need was merely presented
and the helper therefore had to take the initiative to offer
aid (r  .28), compared with when a request was made
explicitly (r  .04).
Parallel to findings on aggressive behavior, when
independent judges evaluated the studies in Eagly and

CH17.indd 647

Crowleys (1986) review, men were more helpful in the

original research to the extent that women perceived helping as more dangerous than did men or that masculine skills
were required (e.g., changing a tire). Consistent with these
findings, the predominance of men among helpers is especially large in the extremely dangerous forms of helping that yield Carnegie Hero Medals (r  .82; Becker &
Eagly, 2004). These awards recognize public acts of
extremely risky prosocial behavior, such as saving people
from fires, drownings, attacks by animals, and assaults by
criminals. However, in a different type of extremely dangerous situationthe rescuing of Jews during the holocaust
women helped as often as men. In addition, women were
represented somewhat more often than men as donators of
living kidneys, volunteers for the Peace Corps, and medical
volunteers in dangerous settings. These prosocial actions
that were not male dominated, especially holocaust rescuing,
entailed risk but rarely required highly strength-intensive
actions that can result in Carnegie Medals (Becker & Eagly,
2004). In addition, most of these actions likely involved a
mix of agentic and communal behaviors.
Conclusions About Sex Differences and Similarities
Both aggression and prosocial behavior are highly varied
domains that can yield a range of sex difference findings.
As evident from the preceding brief review, researchers
claims about difference or similarity depend on the level at
which they choose to aggregate their data. Simple aggregation of either aggressive or prosocial behavior overall
or many of its manifestations can suggest only relatively
small differences and no consistent pattern. However,
framing expectations for differences in terms of gender
roles highlights the conditions under which similarity or
difference is more likely. With this simple understanding,
psychology researchers can be as accurate as everyday perceivers, whose descriptive knowledge of gender roles accurately tracks the direction and magnitude of sex differences
both across different categories of behaviors (e.g., Hall &
Carter, 1999a) and across specific instances of behaviors
within such categories (Eagly & Crowley, 1986; Eagly &
Steffen, 1986).
Reaching beyond simple observations of difference
and similarity, social role theory adds the proposition that
the size and direction of sex differences in aggressive and
prosocial behaviors depend partly on whether the behaviors
require agentic attributes associated with masculinity or
communal attributes associated with femininity. Prosocial
behavior seems to be the more variable domain in terms of
clearly encompassing both communal and agentic behaviors. Whether the differences implied by gender roles are
manifested in behavior also depends on features of the situation (e.g., the presence of onlookers) and of individuals

12/18/09 2:59:10 PM



(e.g., their gender identities, Cohn & Zeichner, 2006). In

addition, male physical prowess yields male advantage
in both aggression and prosocial behavior when actions
require physical strength or threaten physical retaliation.
Thus, men tend to be heroic helpers in emergencies and
with violent criminals and women are inclined to be caretakers of children and elderly relatives and sensitive supporters of spouses and friends.
Although the pattern of meta-analytical findings is generally consistent with a gender role account, most of the
research has not directly identified the proximal processes
that produce sex differences in aggression or prosocial
behavior. From our perspective, the direct precursors of
these sex differences are likely to be gendered self-concepts,
others expectations, and hormonal processes, with T being
especially relevant to aggressive behavior and assertive prosocial interventions and OT pertinent to nurturing and caring
forms of prosocial behavior.
Sex Differences in Organizational Settings
In typical organizational settings, people contend with
their job roles along with their gender roles. Illustrating the
influence of these roles is a study that sampled Canadian
employees agentic and communal behaviors in their
workplaces (Moskowitz, Suh, & Desaulniers, 1994).
Demonstrating the influence of job roles, employees of
both sexes behaved most agentically when interacting with
a subordinate and least agentically when interacting with a
superior. Also, demonstrating the influence of gender
roles, women, regardless of their workplace status, delivered more communal behaviors, such as friendly, unselfish, and expressive acts, especially when interacting with
other women. Similarly, meta-analyses of research on
physicians interactions with their patients yielded effects
reflecting both gender roles and job roles. Specifically,
female physicians, although the same as male physicians
in providing medical information, displayed more communal behaviors than the men, including more positive
talk, psychosocial counseling, emotion-focused talk, and
nodding and smiling (Roter, Hall, & Aoki, 2002). It thus
appears that agentically demanding supervisory and physician roles are sufficiently flexible to allow women to enact
them while displaying communal behavior consistent with
gender role norms.
Despite the apparent flexibility of many occupational roles, conflicts between demands of gender and
workplace roles can pose challenges. Such conflicts are not
marked for female nurses, male truck drivers, and others
employed in sex-typical occupations. However, conflicts are
more common for people in job roles dominated by the other
sex. For example, in military settings, women experience

CH17.indd 648

such conflicts because effective soldiering is believed to

require possession of masculine and rejection of feminine
attributes (Biernat, Crandall, Young, Kobrynowicz, &
Halpin, 1998; Boldry, Wood, & Kashy, 2001).
Inconsistencies between gender roles and workplace
roles can produce prejudice and discrimination, which
has been studied most extensively in relation to women in
leader and manager roles (Eagly & Carli, 2007; Heilman,
2001). People commonly believe that managers and other
leaders are endowed with masculine agentic qualities of
ambition, confidence, self-sufficiency, and dominance
and less endowed with feminine communal qualities (e.g.,
Powell, Butterfield, & Parent, 2002). This think manager
think male effect (Schein, 2001) is robust, despite some
recent weakening (e.g., Duehr & Bono, 2006). The incongruity between beliefs about what it means to be a good
leader and what it means to be female (e.g., Eagly &
Karau, 2002) can generate the perception that women do
not have what it takes to lead. The incompatible beliefs
place female leaders in a dilemmaa double bind (Eagly &
Carli, 2007): Communal female leaders may be criticized for not being agentic enough and not properly taking charge, and agentic female leaders may be criticized
for lacking communion and not being nice enough (e.g.,
Cuddy, Fiske, & Glick, 2004; Rudman & Glick, 2001).
Illustrating the double bind, a meta-analysis of experiments that varied the sex of leaders while holding constant
their other attributes showed stronger prejudice against
women leaders when they managed others in stereotypically masculine ways (Eagly, Makhijani, & Klonsky, 1992).
Thus, a male manager who acts in a forceful or assertive
manner is perceived as behaving appropriately, whereas a
female leader who behaves in exactly the same way may
be considered unacceptably pushy. To cope with the double bind, women managers might offer a blend of masculine and feminine behaviors (Eagly & Carli, 2007). This
style has proven effective at enhancing womens influence
in small, mixed-sex discussion groups (Shackelford et al.,
1996). In general, women entering engineering and other
traditionally male fields cope through various mechanisms, such as garnering social support from family and
friends outside of work settings (Richman, van Dellen, &
Wood, in press).


Gender roles are not arbitrary or random. Instead, they are
firmly rooted in a societys division of labor and the social
roles filled by men and women. Up to this point, the chapter
considered how this division shapes the proximal, immediate

12/18/09 2:59:10 PM

Male and Female Social Roles Are Rooted in a Biosocial Reality 649

causes of sex differences and similarities. In brief, from

observation of womens and mens activities, people infer
the attributes of each sex. These gender role beliefs in turn
influence behavior through the trio of proximal causes that
we considered, including hormonal changes, self-regulation
of identities, and social expectations. But what are the
origins of the human division of labor? In the nomological
network of gender constructs, this question addresses the
distal, evolutionary causes of male and female behavior.
The origins of the division of labor can be traced partly
to humans evolved capacities to invent new solutions to
adaptive problems and to share these innovations through
complex forms of social learning that include teaching,
imitation, and conformity. With these capacities, cultural
knowledge, including beliefs about female and male roles,
cumulates with modifications across generations and cultures. Humans extended juvenile period further favors the
transmission of cultural knowledge. Children engage in
exploratory play and practice female and male roles, and
societies socialize boys and girls by encouraging skills
and preferences suited to the prevailing division of labor.
Variability in the roles of women and men occurs within
the framework of the sexes physical and reproductive
attributes (Wood & Eagly, 2002). Specifically, women
bear and nurse infants, and men have greater size, upperbody strength, and speed. These attributes organize behavioral and psychological sex differences and similarities
across societies. The specific pattern of female and male
behavior in a society emerges from the biosocial interaction between socioeconomic and cultural factors and the
sexes physical and reproductive attributes. This interaction
influences behavior because some activities are more efficiently accomplished by one sex than the other, depending
on societal conditions. Although these differences in
physical characteristics and reproductive activities do not
apply to all men or women (e.g., some women are taller or
stronger than some men), social norms emerge that support
the performance of tasks by the more efficient sex and discourage their performance by the other sex.
Womens Reproductive Activities and Mens Size,
Strength, and Speed
Womens reproductive activities are especially important in
shaping female and male social roles. Because women are
responsible for gestating, nursing, and caring for infants,
they perform childcare roles across societies (Barry &
Paxson, 1971). In societies without effective birth control
technology, fertile women on average have a child every
3.7 years and nurse each child for 2.8 years, with frequent
suckling being the norm (Huber, 2007; Sellen, 2007). These
activities limit womens ability to perform certain other

CH17.indd 649

tasks, especially those that require speed, uninterrupted

periods of activity and training, or long-distance travel away
from home. Yet, reproductive activities have less impact on
womens roles in societies with low birthrates, much less
reliance on lactation for feeding infants and young children,
and more nonmaternal care of young children. These conditions hold in postindustrial societies.
Mens larger size and greater upper-body strength and
speed also shape the division of labor. In addition, socialization channels boys masculinized play preferences and
high activity levels to hone males skills in physically
intensive activities. Because of these intrinsic differences
in size, strength, speed, and activity level, the average
man is more likely than the average woman to perform
efficiently tasks that demand brief bursts of force and upperbody strength. In foraging, horticultural, and agricultural
societies, these tasks include hunting large animals, plowing, and conducting warfare (Murdock & Provost, 1973).
Nonetheless, some tasks usually performed by women
require considerable strength, including fetching water,
carrying children, and doing laundry (Mukhopadhyay &
Higgins, 1988). Whatever the advantages are of mens
ability to execute highly strength-intensive tasks, these
attributes have less effect on role performance in postindustrial and other societies in which few occupational roles
demand these attributes.
Were mens size and strength sculpted by sexual selection pressures? Perhaps ancestral males who were larger,
stronger, and more aggressive had better fitness outcomes
because they were able to compete with other males for
access to many mates. Some researchers have argued that
sexual selection pressures organized human psychology
and physical attributes in these ways (Kenrick, Maner, &
Li, 2005; see Neuberg, Kenrick, & Schaller, volume 2).
However, comparative research with primates suggests
that differences between men and women require a more
complex explanation. Evaluated in relation to other anthropoid primate species, humans proved to have relatively
low malefemale dimorphism in both body weight and
canines (i.e., the size and shape of teeth; Plavcan & van
Schaik, 1997, p. 351). Even though across all primate
species greater bodily dimorphism was associated with
polygynous mating and malemale competition, dimorphism at the low levels existing in humans can be found
among species with various mating systems and competition levels (Plavcan, 2000, p. 338). It follows that the relatively small amount of bodily dimorphism in humans does
not imply sexual selection for particular psychological or
physical characteristics. Also undermining sexual selection
accounts is evidence that both size and canine dimorphism
were likely influenced by selection of females, as well as
males (Plavcan & van Schaik, 2005; Wood & Eagly, 2002).

12/18/09 2:59:11 PM



Selection pressures on females are especially plausible

given that the decreasing size dimorphism as hominids evolved from the earlier Australopithecus to Homo
was due to an increase in the size of females relative to
males (McHenry & Coffing, 2000).
In general, human bodily dimorphism follows from a
complex set of factors and cannot be adequately explained
merely by sexual selection pressures involving male competition and female choice. Also, this dimorphism does not
imply that any particular psychological sex differences are
characteristic of humans as a species or caused by sexual
selection pressures on males (e.g., competition among males
for sexual access to females). Instead, the distal, evolutionary causes of male and female psychology lie in the ways
that mens physical attributes and womens reproductive
activities interact with sociocultural conditions. As we have
argued, the resulting division of labor and associated gender
role beliefs in turn frame the interactions among hormonal
processes, self-regulatory mechanisms, and social expectations that produce sex differences in behavior.
Evolutionary Origins of
Human Cultural Variation
The specific roles that men and women perform in the division of labor vary across societies partly because humans
developed abilities to innovate and to engage in complex
forms of social learning and knowledge sharing. These
capacities also have evolutionary origins: They developed
because they solved problems of reproduction and survival.
Specifically, humans and their ancestors became increasingly adept at responding with behavioral flexibility and
generating cultural solutions to variability in evolutionary
environments (Potts, 1998; Richerson & Boyd, 2005).
The extraordinary variability in ancestral environments was due partly to environmental changeability in
the late Pleistocene climate. The increasing climate variation over the last 3 million years represented major shifts
in vegetation, water, and other resources that sometimes
emerged abruptly between periods of relative stability
(e.g., Ditlevsen, Ditlevsen, & Andersen, 2002). Diversity
in adaptive conditions also arose from the piecemeal development of human attributes, each constellation of which
yielded unique selection pressures on human ancestors
(Foley, 2007). Because the suite of uniquely human attributes developed in fits and starts, human evolution was
marked by a sequence of significant changes (e.g., development of stone tools followed by growth in human societies)
and thus of adaptive problems to be solved. Additionally
contributing to diversity in adaptive conditions, humans
engage in extensive niche construction through which they
alter the environments in which they live (Odling-Smee,

CH17.indd 650

Laland, & Feldman, 2003). Niche construction plausibly

accelerated the pace of humans environmental change
by promoting the development of new technologies,
resources, and social organizations that supported the ecological and geographical expansion of humans across the
globe (Sterelny, 2003).
By developing mechanisms for innovation and intensive
social learning, ancestral humans developed the capacity
for a cumulative form of culture that accrues modifications
over time. As illustrated by clothing manufacture, one person or group initially cut and draped hides or skins, and
others subsequently modified this practice by sewing
and perhaps adding woven materials. Such simple construction was then adopted by others, possibly for generations and only eventually modified further. This process
depends on several evolved capacities, including initial
innovation of an artifact or practice, faithful cultural transmission that works as a sort of ratchet to retain that knowledge (Tomasello, Carpenter, Call, Behne, & Moll, 2005),
and cumulative modifications of the original. The human
flexibility inherent in this cultural progression does not
imply that the mind is a blank slate. Instead, humans possess a suite of cognitive and social abilities that enable the
production and sharing of novel solutions to the challenges
of reproduction and survival.
The idea that social learning evolved as an adaptive
response to changing environments is buttressed by the
evidence that even in nonhuman species the relations
between males and females are responsive to some extent
to social learning, despite their more constraining adaptations to specific ecologies and climates. Through social
and sexual interaction, individuals in many species learn
basic capacities such as discriminating between males and
females, a precondition for mating with a particular sex
(Woodson, 2002), and learn about the range of attributes
of potential mates (Dukas, 2008). Socially learned information complements genetically coded preferences and
behavior patterns, allowing animals to fine-tune behavior
to local circumstances.
Socialization in Humans
Opportunities for social learning are extensive in humans
because their relatively long juvenile period allows childhood play and socialization to prepare children for the
adult roles of their society. As already noted at various
points in this chapter, socialization enlists various cognitive and social learning processes; it emanates from parents, the extended family, peers and other community
members, media, religion, and other social institutions.
Play and socialization enable children to acquire skills and
preferences compatible with sex-typical social roles. For

12/18/09 2:59:11 PM

Male and Female Social Roles Are Rooted in a Biosocial Reality 651

example, as shown by Barry, Bacon, and Childs (1957)

classic study of child rearing in 110 cultures, in most of the
societies, girls were encouraged more than boys to be nurturant. Also, the structuring of childhood activities to give
girls greater practice in nurturing was a clear-cut finding
in the Six Cultures Project, which involved the collection
of extensive data on childrens lives in diverse cultures
(Whiting & Edwards, 1988; Whiting & Whiting, 1975).
Amplifying these classic cross-cultural investigations,
Lytton and Romneys (1991) meta-analysis of studies of
parents differential treatment of girls and boys yielded the
clearest evidence for gender-stereotypical play, games, and
chores. Such play activity generally models and provides
tutelage in adult roles; for example, doll play models caring for children, and play with action figures models more
violent and warlike activity. Also, the common tendency of
parents to assign household chores such as lawn mowing
and kitchen work on the basis of their childrens sex provides apprenticeship in sex-typical adult roles.
Whether parents encourage the development of sextypical personality attributes such as warmth and aggressiveness has remained more ambiguous (Lytton & Romney,
1991). Some have argued that parents may not convey
such qualities explicitly but instead do so subtle ways
for example, by noting and contrasting female and male
categories (e.g., Gelman, Taylor, & Nguyen, 2004). Observational learning is an ongoing feature of family life as
well; parents and other family members own behavior
and activities convey adult roles and sex-differentiated
behavior patterns to children.
Through these various socialization experiences, girls
and boys develop self-efficacy beliefs that they can engage
in behavior typical of their sex and develop gender identities incorporating sex-typical attributes. Such beliefs
enable children to administer self-praise or self-criticism
when they conform to their personal standards for genderappropriate behavior (Bussey & Bandura, 1999). Also,
distinctive boy and girl cultures emerge, enhanced by considerable voluntary sex segregation in childhood (Maccoby,
1998). As a result, boys and girls tend to develop the skills
and preferences that equip them to enact their societys
division of labor.
Evolutionary Accounts of Sex Differences in
Human Behavior
A biosocial evolutionary theory provides an organizing
framework to understand sex differences and similarities
in behavior (Wood & Eagly, 2002, 2007). From this perspective, humans capacity for innovation and social learning enabled flexibility in the behavior and social roles of
men and women, within the constraints that followed from

CH17.indd 651

mens physical attributes and womens reproductive activities. We illustrate this biosocial interaction by analyzing the
conditions under which men and women express particular
mate preferences and societies develop patriarchal social
Mate Preferences
Mate preferences are inherently closely linked to evolutionary processes because differential reproduction, along
with survival selection, drives evolutionary outcomes. In
our analysis, these preferences vary as women and men
attempt to maximize their outcomes given the prevailing
division of labor and gender ideology. In demonstration
of how this works, Eagly and Wood (1999) reanalyzed the
data from Busss (1989) study of the mate preferences of
young adults from 37 diverse, primarily urbanized, casheconomy cultures. In societies with a strong division of
labor between male providers, and female homemakers,
women were more likely to prefer a mate with resources
who could be a good provider, and men were more likely
to prefer a mate who was a skilled homemaker and child
caretaker (see also Lippa, 2007). This marital system of a
good provider paired with a domestic worker also generated a spousal age difference, given that older men were
more likely to have acquired resources and younger women
without resources were more likely to value marriage and
older partners with resources.
The importance of the marital division of labor to these
mate preferences is consistent with experiments in which
envisioning oneself as a future homemaker caused participants of both sexes to increase their preference for a mate
with good provider qualities and older age, compared with
envisioning oneself as a future family provider (Eagly,
Eastwick, & Johannesen-Schmidt, 2009). Analogously,
within each of nine nations, more traditional gender ideology, as manifested in individuals sexist attitudes toward
women or men, was associated with conventional sex-typing
of mate preferencesthat is, mens preferences for mates
with homemaking skills and younger age and womens for
mates with provider skills and older age (Eastwick et al.,
2006). And sex-typical courtship roles may directly influence
mate preferences. The agentic act of physically approaching
a potential romantic partner, a behavior that is normatively
more expected of men than women, increased students
attraction to potential partners and reduced their selectivity
in a speed-dating study (Finkel & Eastwick, 2009).
Additional evidence that mate preferences emerge flexibly from the division of labor comes from Sweeneys
(2002) investigation of cross-temporal changes within the
U.S. population in the relation between economic prospects and marriage formation. The traditional tendency
for higher earnings to increase the likelihood of marriage

12/18/09 2:59:12 PM



for men but not women has changed over time as earnings
have become more important for womens marital prospects. As a result, the relation between earning and marriage is now similar for men and women. Also, the age gap
in first marriages in the United States has declined from
husbands being 2.8 years older than wives in 1940 to 1.8
years in 2005 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2006). The findings
of variability in mate preference suggest flexibility in
response to current conditions.
Societies also vary in whether they have a social hierarchy
in which men have more status and power than women, with
patriarchy becoming more widespread as societies developed greater complexity (Wood & Eagly, 2002). In contrast,
some evolutionary scientists have argued that early humans
evolved in the context of patriarchy fueled by males desire
for paternity certainty and the importance of male hunting
and provisioning (e.g., Kaplan & Robson, 2002; Sidanius &
Pratto, 1999). Contrary to this view of human evolution,
recent evidence supports the survival value of female coalitions in early human societies, with mothers garnering help
from grandmothers and female kin, as well as from pairbonded men (e.g., Opie & Power, 2008).
As societies advanced and human activities became
more specialized, patriarchal relations emerged from mens
greater upper-body strength and speed giving them facility
to perform physically demanding activities (e.g., warfare
and plow technology) that can confer decision-making
power, authority, and access to resources. Patriarchy also
emerged when womens reproductive activities interfered
with performing the activities that yielded the most status
and power in a society. Although women combined their
reproductive responsibilities with gathering in foraging
societies, gestation and lactation limited their participation
in the newly emerging roles (e.g., blacksmith and warrior)
that required intensive specialized training, acquisition
of complex skills, and extended, uninterrupted periods of
task performance (Huber, 2007). With little participation
in such activities, women lacked influence outside of the
household and acquired few resources valuable for trade in
the broader economy. Because simple economies in which
people subsist by nomadic foraging lacked the specialized roles that gave some subgroups power over others,
especially men over women, the contrasting physical and
reproductive attributes of the sexes had weaker influence
on power and status in such societies, which were generally more egalitarian (e.g., Salzman, 1999).
In summary, ancestral humans evolved a suite of social
and cognitive skills that, along with a long juvenile period,
promoted flexible performance of male and female roles. This
flexibility was structured by mens physical attributes and

CH17.indd 652

womens reproductive activities, such that both women and

men more efficiently performed certain roles given the conditions of their society. Therefore, mate preferences varied
with the division of labor within a society and with individuals endorsement of that division. Patriarchy emerged
with the development of social roles, assumed largely by
men, that provided privileged access to power and authority. Thus, the evolutionary origins of mens and womens
role performance took the form of a biosocial interaction
between the differing physical attributes and reproductive activities of the sexes and the local socioeconomic,
cultural, and ecological conditions.


Variation over time and across cultures in sex differences
in psychological dispositions and behaviors should reflect
changes in womens and mens social roles. Simply put,
as the division of labor changes, the demands on women
and men change. Gender role beliefs mirror the changing
content of each sexs roles and in turn influence gender
identities and stereotypical social expectations.
Given that role change is linked to psychological change,
the apron-wearing homemakers enshrined in U.S. situation comedies of the mid-20th century were psychologically different from the uniformed or professionally attired
working women of the 21st century. To understand these
differences, we first outline the U.S. sociodemographic
shifts that have placed many women in formerly maledominated roles yet largely retained womens participation
in childcare and other forms of caring for others. Then we
evaluate cross-cultural variation in mens and womens
roles and in the attributes of each sex. This discussion sets
the stage to analyze the equality of men and women in the
Summary section of the chapter.
Variation in the United States Over Time
Traditionally, mens labor force participation was much
higher than womens. In the United States since the mid20th century, women greatly increased and men slightly
decreased their employment, with womens labor force participation nearly doubling in the last half of the century (e.g.,
Eagly & Carli, 2007). By 2009, the labor force participation
of Americans 20 years and older was 61% for women and
75% for men (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2009). In
terms of hours on the job per week between 1965 and 2003,
employed mens work declined by more than 6 hours,
whereas employed womens increased by more than 3 hours
(Aguiar & Hurst, 2007). Yet, the traditional sex difference

12/18/09 2:59:12 PM

Temporal and Cultural Change in Sex Differences

remains in weakened form. From 2003 to 2006, even when

men and women filled the same roles of being married, parents, and employed full time, men devoted 1.25 hours to
their jobs for every hour devoted by women and enjoyed
1.30 hours of leisure and sport for every hour enjoyed by
women (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2008b).
Sex segregation in the workplace also declined over
this period (Tomaskovic-Devey et al., 2006), with women
increasing substantially in professional occupations and
especially in managerial occupations (Wootton, 1997).
Women now constitute 51% of individuals in management, professional, and related occupations (U.S. Bureau
of Labor Statistics, 2008a).
Other sociodemographic shifts include the increasing education of women, who earned 58% of bachelor s
degrees in 2006 versus 43% in 1970 (U.S. National Center
for Education Statistics, 2007a, 2007b). Strikingly, women
earned 46% of all doctoral degrees in the United States
in 2006, an increase from 25% in 1977 (Welch, 2008). In
addition, patterns of course taking have changed, with
high school girls as likely as boys to take calculus and
women earning 48% of undergraduate degrees in mathematics (Hyde, Lindberg, Linn, Ellis, & Williams, 2008).
Women and girls now also participate more in sports,
with women occupying 45% of Division 1 collegiate
athletic positions in 2006 compared with 31% in 1992
(National Collegiate Athletic Association, 2008). With
these female inroads into the formerly male-dominated
domains of management and professions, higher education,
mathematics, and sport, more women are entering roles
that require agentic behavior and quantitative competence.
Some research indicates that women are increasing
in agency, consistent with their changing social roles.
A meta-analysis of self-reported agentic traits from 1973
to 1993 found that the sex difference decreased over time;
specifically, agency rose for both sexes but especially
among women (Twenge, 1997). Similarly, a meta-analysis
that focused more narrowly on the personality traits of
assertiveness and dominance found little change in men,
but womens scores rose from 1931 to 1945, dropped from
1946 to 1967, and rose again from 1968 to 1993 (Twenge,
2001), apparently mirroring 20th-century fluctuations in
womens employment roles. However, other research has
found that, despite the increase in both sexes agency, men
are still higher (e.g., Feingold, 1994; Lueptow, GarovichSzabo, & Lueptow, 2001). In general, the direction and
magnitude of the sex difference may depend on what specific aspect of self-reported agency is being evaluated.
Traditional sex differences favoring men may still be present in some aspects of agency, whereas other aspects favor
women (see Costa, Terracciano, & McCrae, 2001, for
malefemale comparisons on specific facets of Big Five

CH17.indd 653


personality traits). Additional complexities enter when

researchers compare the variabilities of male and female
test scores, in addition to mean differences. Although
the classic hypothesis of greater male variability enjoys
some support (e.g., Archer & Mehdikhani, 2003; Johnson,
Carothers, & Deary, 2008), causation continues to be
debated among theories emphasizing sexual selection,
sampling artifacts, and differential opportunities for developing abilities and traits.
Also linking womens personal attributes to their employment, research has shown that both full-time employment
and employment in higher-prestige occupations predicted
U.S. mothers self-reported agency (Kasen, Chen, Sneed,
Crawford, & Cohen, 2006). Among German university
graduates of both sexes, self-reported agency predicted
career success, which in turn enhanced agency (Abele,
2003). Womens increasing agency includes ambition for
careers outside of the home. In multiple surveys of college
freshmen conducted between 1966 and 2006, the career
goals of men and women converged, primarily because
of womens increased aspiration for traditionally maledominated careers (Pryor, Hurtado, Saenz, Santos, & Korn,
2006). In addition, among high school seniors in 2004,
slightly more women (93%) than men (90%) rated being
successful at work as an important life value, indicating
a reversal from the greater male emphasis on this value in
the 1970s (U.S. National Center for Education Statistics,
2007a, 2007b). In a meta-analysis of the attributes valued
in jobs, many sex differences weakened over time among
adults in similar occupations, including the traditionally
greater male preferences for leadership, promotions, and
autonomy (Konrad, Ritchie, Lieb, & Corrigall, 2000).
The changes in the roles of men and women since the mid20th century are not symmetrical. Although women have
been moving into many traditionally male-dominated occupational roles, traditionally female-dominated roles involving
caretaking of others continue to be female dominated.
Women still are the majority in occupations such as elementary school teacher, social worker, and nurse that emphasize
caring for others or communal characteristics more generally (Cejka & Eagly, 1999; England et al., 2002; U.S. Bureau
of Labor Statistics, 2008a). Women also continue to take
primary responsibility for childcare and other household
service work, despite some increase in mens childcare and
housework and a decrease in womens housework (Aguiar &
Hurst, 2007; Bianchi et al., 2006). From 2003 to 2006, even
for men and women who fill the same rolemarried parents who were employed full time, women devoted 1.5 hours
to childcare for every hour devoted by men, as well as 1.5
hours to other household work for every hour devoted by
men (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2008b). Less equality
prevails when mothers are employed part time or not at all.

12/18/09 2:59:13 PM



Consistent with this continuity in womens caretaking

of others, the sex difference in communal orientation has
remained relatively unchanged over time. In a meta-analysis
of self-reported personality characteristics, communal
characteristics were fairly stable from 1973 to 1993
(Twenge, 1997). The continuation of higher levels of selfreported communion in women than men also was present
in a meta-analysis of self-reports of caring (or tenderminded) personality traits (Feingold, 1994), as well as
in a single investigation spanning 1974 to 1997 (with evidence of increasing female communion; Lueptow et al.,
2001). Life goals concerning family also have retained traditional sex differencesfor example, among high school
seniors in 2004, more women (53%) than men (45%) rated
having children as an important life value (U.S. National
Center for Education Statistics, 2007a, 2007b).
Sex differences also were stable across time in communalrelated values and attitudes. Women, more than men,
valued the welfare of others in the 1970s, and this effect
persisted in the 1990s (Beutel & Marini, 1995). From
1973 to 1998, womens (vs. mens) stronger endorsement of socially compassionate social policies (e.g., support for disadvantaged groups) showed no change (Eagly,
Diekman, Johannesen-Schmidt, & Koenig, 2004). Also
stable over time was womens greater endorsement of traditional morality (e.g., disapproval of divorce or extramarital
relations), which upholds communal-oriented institutions,
such as marriage, the family, and organized religion.
In general, although women have entered the workplace
in large numbers, they continue to be underrepresented in
the more lucrative positions and in positions that confer high
levels of authority (e.g., Helfat, Harris, & Wolfson, 2006).
Thus, despite womens increasing agency, sex differences
remain in some agentic attributes and beliefs. Less evidence exists of change in sex-differentiated attributes and
beliefs related to communal qualities, perhaps due to the
continuing female predominance in caretaking roles, both
in the family and in the labor force. These trends closely
match peoples everyday understanding of changes over
time in sex differences. Research on the stereotypical traits
ascribed to women and men of the past, present, and future
showed that social perceivers view the sex difference in
communal qualities as remaining relatively constant over
time, even though they view the sex difference in agency as
eroding as women gain more of these qualities (Diekman &
Eagly, 2000).
Despite the role changes of recent years, overall stereotypes about women and men have apparently not undergone marked shifts (Lueptow et al., 2001). Although
conclusions about change of gender stereotypes require
additional research evidence, the idea that these beliefs
change more slowly than roles is consistent with the

CH17.indd 654

concept of cultural lag (Brinkman & Brinkman, 1997;

Ogburn, 1922/1964). Traditional representations of women
also continue, despite the addition of nontraditional representations. Not only does cultural lore still feature fairytale princesses and ecstatic brides, but peoples personal
encounters with occupants of roles such as primary caretaker and teacher of children also are overwhelmingly with
women. Traditional assumptions about gender are perpetuated in various other ways, such as being embedded in language use and grammatical forms (e.g., Stahlberg, Braun,
Irmen, & Sczesny, 2007).
Variation Across Cultures
Just as the psychology of women has changed across time
in the United States, with changes mainly in womens roles,
the values and attributes of men and women should differ
across cultures depending on the distribution of women
and men into social roles. That is, the attributes and beliefs
of women and men should take a traditional form in societies with greater malefemale inequality. In such societies,
women generally have limited participation in the paid
labor force and are otherwise restricted by, for example,
having less access to education than men and by the segregation of women and men into different life roles.
Across societies, a patriarchal division of labor is reflected
in gender role beliefs (Inglehart & Norris, 2003). For example, across 19 world societies, womens greater access to
resources and power was associated with lesser sexism in
the form of both benevolent beliefs about traditional women
and hostile beliefs about nontraditional women (Glick &
Fiske, 2001). Moreover, these hostile and benevolent beliefs
tended to coincide in nations (Glick et al., 2000). Gender role
beliefs about men similarly depend on the division of labor,
with people believing more in mens inherent dominance in
patriarchal societies (Glick et al., 2004). Providing causal
evidence that womens labor force participation influences
gender role beliefs, Seguino (2007) evaluated, for a sample of
world societies, the effects of increases in womens share
of economic activity. Across societies, the social experience of
women moving into paid employment increased beliefs in
equality between the sexes.
Sex differences in self-ratings on personality attributes
and abilities across cultures are difficult to interpret because
they can be influenced by various features of womens and
mens roles. In particular, the extent of segregation of men
and women into social roles likely influences the comparison standard that people use to evaluate themselves
and others (see the discussion of shifting standards in the
earlier section titled Accuracy of Gender Stereotypes). In
traditional cultures in which occupational and other roles
tend to be segregated by sex, men and women would judge

12/18/09 2:59:13 PM


their own and others psychological attributes through a

comparison with salient others, who are mainly of the
same sex. Thus, a man might rate himself as only moderately assertive because he is comparing himself with other
men, who are generally somewhat assertive in his society.
In contrast, in more egalitarian societies with less sexsegregated roles, a man might compare himself with individuals of both sexes and conclude that he is relatively
assertive. The result of this shifting comparison standard
is that sex differences should appear to be smaller in less
egalitarian, more hierarchical societies in which individuals compare themselves with their own sex (Guimond et al.,
2007; see also Lippa, in press).
In line with this shifting standards prediction, several
studies have found stronger sex differences in self-reports
and other reports in more egalitarian societies. For example,
across world societies, men place greater value on power,
social status, and prestige, whereas women place greater
value on benevolence and concern for the welfare of close
others. These sex differences were larger in more egalitarian societies (Schwartz & Rubel, 2005). Self-reported emotions showed a similar pattern across cultures, with larger
sex differences in less traditional societies (Fischer &
Manstead, 2000). In addition, in comparisons of personality
traits across societies, women are generally higher in neuroticism, agreeableness, warmth, and openness to feelings,
whereas men are higher in assertiveness and openness to
ideas. These personality differences were more pronounced
in more egalitarian societies (Costa et al., 2001). A similar pattern was found for observers ratings of mens and
womens personality traits (McCrae et al., 2005).
This variation in self-reported personality traits across
cultures is less congenial with an alternative explanation in
which, in the ancestral past, as hunter gatherers, men and
women naturally developed sexually selected differences
in personality traits such that men were more risk taking
and dominance seeking and women were more nurturing
(Schmitt, Realo, Voracek, & Allik, 2008, pp. 178179).
Supposedly, more prosperous, egalitarian societies are supportive of the expression of these innate sex differences
because they are similar in crucial aspects to the egalitarian, huntergatherer societies in which humans evolved.
However, the pattern of change in the sex differences is
not consistent with this claim. Specifically, in the data from
Schmitt et al., the larger sex differences in egalitarian societies were primarily due to men scoring lower on neuroticism, agreeableness, and conscientiousness, as well as on
extroversion, which reflects mens view of themselves as
less depressed and anxious, cooperative and outgoing, disciplined and dutiful, and friendly and assertive in egalitarian
societies than patriarchal societies. Thus, this pattern of sex
differences suggests that a male slacker effect is emerging

CH17.indd 655


in the more egalitarian societies, not an enhancement of

presumably sexually selected personality traits of risk taking and dominance. However, such data remain clouded by
possible shifting judgment standards across cultures.
In summary, variation over time and across cultures in
the roles of men and women corresponds to variation
in sex-typical psychological traits. As women have entered
the workforce in increasingly large numbers in postindustrial societies, they have acquired agentic traits so that they
have become more comparable to men in these qualities.
In more traditional societies with greater sex segregation,
fewer sex differences are evident in self-rated traits and
abilities, presumably because these men and women tend
to judge themselves in relation to salient others who are
of the same sex. The logic of the shifting sex differences
in psychological data over time and cultures thus derives
from changes in mens and womens roles in society.

Psychologists debates about sex differences and similarities and their causes have important implications for
peoples lives, especially for womens potential to attain
equality in power and status in industrialized societies.
This equality issue lurks in the background of many debates
about gender, especially given that the second-wave feminist
movement fueled the upsurge of gender research that began
in the 1970s. Relevant to equality are some researchers
claims that women and men are similar on most consequential psychological attributes (Hyde, 2005). If similarity
is present, few intrinsic psychological barriers to equality
exist. The implication is that both sexes should have access
to all societal roles and that behavioral differences held in
place by societal expectations, gender identities, and hormonal influences are likely to erode over time.
One prominent example of sex similarities is the equivalent performance of girls and boys on standardized tests
of math achievement in grade school through high school
(Hyde et al., 2008). Additionally provocative are contemporary findings of female advantage in domains that traditionally advantaged menfor example, in leadership styles
associated with effective management (Eagly, JohannesenSchmidt, & van Engen, 2003) and in performance in certain
task-oriented groups (Wood, 1987). Reports of null sex differences and of female advantage have been enthusiastically
received by those who are committed to furthering gender
equality. The reaction is understandable, given that evidence of male superiority in traditionally male-advantage
domains tends to disqualify women in relation to attractive
roles and opportunities and even to justify unequal treatment under the law (Barnett & Rivers, 2004; Hyde, 2005).

12/18/09 2:59:14 PM



In contrast to these concerns about impediments to

womens occupancy of masculine roles, equality can be
compromised by womens privileged access to feminine
roles. Evidence of female advantage on communal attributes has such implications, given that nurturance and
concern for other people are compatible with womens traditional caretaking roles in the family and in communally
demanding occupations. Examples include Gilligans
(1982) claims that women take a caring approach to moral
reasoning and Taylor and colleagues (2000; Taylor, 2002)
proposal that women react to stress not by fight or flight
but by tending children and befriending allies. Other
reports have highlighted womens greater social sensitivity (Hall, 2006) and emotional intelligence (e.g., Brackett,
Rivers, Shiffman, Lerner, & Salovey, 2006).
Psychologists have offered various opinions about
whether sex differences that remain in agentic and communal traits are due to socialization and situational influences
or to intrinsic, hardwired causes deriving from genetic differences between the sexes. Advocating for environmental
influences are many developmental psychologists (e.g.,
Bussey & Bandura, 2004), plus social constructionists in
many social science fields (e.g., Marecek, Crawford, &
Popp, 2004). Advocating for intrinsic causes are evolutionary psychologists who trace sex differences in modern
human psychology to sexual selection pressures on human
ancestors (e.g., Browne, 2002; Kenrick, Trost, & Sundie,
2004; Schmitt et al., 2008; Sidanius & Pratto, 1999).
Our biosocial theory falls into neither of these two
camps. Our review of the empirical evidence identified
sex differences in several important personal attributes and
behaviors, especially in natural settings. These differences
take various forms, depending on mens and womens
roles in society. The differences between male and female
behavior that emerge in daily life reflect the immediate,
proximal causes of hormonal regulation, self-regulation by
gender identities, and social regulation by others sanctions
and rewards. Womens nurturing thus arises from the inclusion of caring qualities in their personal identities, as well
as social expectations that they manifest such behavior,
both of which recruit supportive neurochemical processes
(e.g., increased OT and mechanisms of reward). In essence,
female and male psychology is not fixed but emerges from
interactions across multiple biological and sociocultural
factors. The varying forms of this interaction depend on
the division of labor within a society and the ways in which
boys and girls are socialized into sex-typical roles.
The psychological attributes of men and women vary
across cultures and time periods depending on the demands
of their social roles: Women more than men have undergone role transitions on a major scale in the United States
and many other industrialized nations. Therefore, changes

CH17.indd 656

in personality in recent decades have been asymmetrical,

with evidence that women are adopting some of mens
masculine, agentic characteristics and that men are not
adopting womens feminine, communal characteristics. We
ascribed this shift in womens personal attributes mainly to
their increasing labor force participation, including inroads
into many jobs once dominated by men.
From our social role perspective, mens psychological
attributes will shift to the extent that they perform more
family-caring activities and enter into more communally
demanding occupations. But only modest changes can be
seen in mens activities thus far, in either domestic work
(Bianchi et al., 2006) or paid employment (Queneau, 2006).
Men have not undergone major transitions in their daily
activities in the United States or other industrialized nations.
Is it possible for men to adopt more communal roles
and develop more communal-oriented personalities?
The answer requires knowledge of the biosocial roots of
the role structure and the limits it may impose on role flexibility. As we have explained, these roots lie mainly in the
ways in which male size and strength and female reproductive activities interact with socioeconomic complexity.
Through human history, as societies shifted from simple
foraging through agricultural and eventually to industrial
economies, patriarchy became the dominant form of relations between the sexes. This transition emerged with
several societal developments, including technologies such
as the plow, provisioning by hunting large animals, and
societal structures such as organized warfare. The biosocial
restraints of male size and strength and female reproductive activity increasingly gave men better access to the new
roles (e.g., farmer, hunter, and warrior) that yielded wealth
and prestige, thereby reducing womens share of economic
contribution while retaining their domestic obligations.
Patriarchy has eroded in most industrialized societies,
especially in the second half of the 20th century, as women
have gained power and status. This shift reflects the loosening of biosocial restraints on womens roles through sharp
reductions in birth rates and length of lactation, combined
with shifts in the occupational structure. The occupations
that now garner status, power, and resources reward brains,
not brawn. This shift toward intellectual demands diminishes the male advantage once inherent in their physical
prowess, which in turn derives partly from the organizing
effects of male hormones. In addition, leadership roles are
increasingly defined as requiring an androgynous mix of
culturally masculine and feminine abilities and personality traits (Eagly & Carli, 2007). Nonetheless, these several
changes have so far produced only semiequality between
the sexes. Men continue to dominate leadership roles
at highest levels (e.g., Helfat et al., 2006), and women
continue to take responsibility for the majority of childcare

12/18/09 2:59:14 PM

References 657

and housework (e.g., Bianchi et al., 2006). Furthermore,

on many attitudinal and behavioral indicators in the United
States, changes toward gender equality appear to be slowing down, and sociologists debate why this is happening
(Blau, Brinton, & Grusky 2006).
The continuing wage and authority gaps in the workforce can be traced partly to women continuing to fill caretaking roles, especially childcare. Childcare roles that take
women out of the labor force or reduce their employment to
part time lessen their training and experience. Even many
privileged women who have high educational credentials
and outstanding career potential reduce their employment
to accommodate family obligations (Hewlett, 2007). This
reduced participation in employment is compounded by job
discrimination against mothers (e.g., Correll, Benard, &
Paik, 2007) and tax laws that encourage women to be primary family caretakers (McCaffery, 1999). These effects
lessen womens opportunities to attain jobs that offer high
wages and substantial workplace authority (Polachek,
2006). Thus, the historical origins of patriarchy continue
to play out in modern times through womens childcare
activities that reduce their access to roles that confer status,
high wages, and prestige.
What explains mens continued low levels of childcare
and limited interest in communally demanding occupations? Barriers to men taking on such roles include lower
monetary compensation of communally demanding occupations (England, 2006), social expectations that men are
less well endowed with the necessary communal skills
(Cejka & Eagly, 1999), and stigma associated with nontraditional male communal roles such as stay-at-home dads
(Brescoll & Uhlmann, 2005).
Women specialize in childcare partly because of the
continuing efficiency for women of performing these roles.
The energetic demands of bearing children and the health
benefits of some months of breast-feeding can orient mothers away from continued paid employment and toward
infant care. This arrangement is fostered by socialization
of women and societal beliefs that promote sex-typical
role performance. Hormonal processes also may encourage
mothers childcare, as the cascading hormones of pregnancy
and lactation support womens tending (Campbell, 2008;
Taylor, 2002). Research is still discovering these nurturing
effects, and one possibility is that OTs activating effects on
human behavior function primarily in the service of ongoing social roles, as does T. If so, then OT largely accommodates and supports the expression of self and social
expectations for maternal behavior within a society. Within
families, paternal behavior also is supported by hormonal
processes, as fathers show parallel hormonal accommodation to parenthood (Berg & Wynne-Edwards, 2001, 2002).
In both sexes, caretaking is facilitated by neurochemical

CH17.indd 657

mechanisms of reward learning that can undergird

nurturing of infants and young children (Broad et al., 2006;
Depue & Morrone-Strupinsky, 2005). Fathering activities
also are supported by changing norms and attitudes in the
United States, especially among younger adults, who have
become considerably more accepting of mens equal participation in childcare (e.g., Milkie, Bianchi, Mattingly, &
Robinson, 2002).
Change in social roles is slowed by societal ideologies and status beliefs that legitimize social inequalities
on the basis of sex and other attributes (Ridgeway, 2006a;
Sidanius & Pratto, 1999). To some extent, even women and
members of other subordinated groups accept the systemjustifying ideologies of the dominant group (Jost, Pelham,
Sheldon, & Sullivan, 2003) and endorse paternalistic,
benevolently sexist ideas (Glick & Fiske, 2001). However,
womens attitudes and ideologies are more progressive
than mens (e.g., Eagly & Diekman, 2006; Eagly et al.,
2004; Seguino, 2007), and their political commitments
and actions can speed social change (e.g., Dodson, 2006).
For those committed to gender equality, the major challenge for the future is to encourage both men and women
to occupy a wider range of social roles.

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